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Apple’s Supply Chain Includes Forced Labor in China

Big companies like Apple claim they try to avoid forced labor but maybe not hard enough

The Information, an online periodical covering the tech industry, found that Apple’s supply chain includes companies that use the forced labor of members of minority groups in China, particularly Uyghurs — Chinese citizens who are ethnically Turkish and mostly Muslim:

The Information and human rights groups have found seven companies supplying device components, coatings and assembly services to Apple that are linked to alleged forced labor involving Uyghurs and other oppressed minorities in China. At least five of those companies received thousands of Uyghur and other minority workers at specific factory sites or subsidiaries that did work for Apple, the investigation found. The revelation stands in contrast to Apple’s assertions over the past year that it hasn’t found evidence of forced labor in its supply chain.

Wayne Ma, “Seven Apple Suppliers Accused of Using Forced Labor from Xinjiang” at The Information (May 10, 2021)

The seven named companies are Advanced-Connectek, Luxshare Precision Industry, Shenzhen Deren Electronics Co., Avary Holding, AcBel Polytech, CN Innovations, and Suzhou Dongshan Precision Manufacturing Co.

The topic is getting more attention than formerly, The Verge reports, possibly because Big Tech companies continue to insist that they don’t work with firms that use forced labor. But evidence keeps coming up that they do.

A large population of Uyghurs, as well as other Muslim minorities, resides in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) in northwest China where the government has detained over a million Uyghurs. Reports from Newlines Institute, The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and the U.S. Department of State have verified the satellite imagery used by investigative journalists that shows factories where Uyghur detainees are forced to work, constructed near detention centers. These reports catalog forced labor and inhuman working conditions for Uyghurs and other minorities. Notably, one of Apple’s suppliers has a factory in Xinjiang.

Xinjiang red highlighted in map of China

Six of the seven companies participate in work programs that are operated by the Chinese government. These work programs are often involuntary. Uyghurs are sometimes transported far from their families to work in other parts of the country; that’s one of the many factors contributing to the recent large decline in births in Xinjiang.

According to AppleInsider, U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R-Colorado) asked Apple CEO Tim Cook to provide information on Apple’s relationship with these companies:

Buck in the letter asks Cook to clarify Apple’s relationship with each company listed in Monday’s report and provide documentation relating to internal investigations into forced labor or human rights abuses connected to said firms. Also requested is a “thorough description” of the process Apple undertakes to ensure suppliers are not exploiting workers. Buck also wants to know how Apple intends to keep human rights related malfeasance out of its supply chain.

Mikey Campbell, “US lawmaker demands Apple’s Tim Cook responds to Uyghur forced labor claims” at AppleInsider (May 12, 2021)

Apple has had to address forced labor and working conditions in its supply chain before. In 2010, after a spate of suicides at Taiwanese-owned Foxconn, Apple hired the Fair Labor Association to conduct an annual independent audit of its supply chains. In 2013 the Fair Labor Association found that 8 factories used bonded labor, 90 locations deducted wages to punish workers, 34 conducted mandatory pregnancy tests, 25 tested for medical conditions such as hepatitis B, and 4 falsified their payroll records. The report also found that 11 factories hired children.

Apple Is Not the Only Tech Company with a Problem

Among several companies listed by the U.S. Department of Commerce as guilty of human rights violations, was Nanchang O-film Tech, which produces cameras, touch screens, and fingerprint sensors. O-film Tech is a supplier for Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. According to Appleinsider, the company was involved in the production of the fifth-generation iPad mini.

Know the Chain, a not-for-profit group that addresses forced labor in global supply chains, released its 2020 report on the sector — which showed that Apple is not even the biggest offender.

Know the Chain evaluated the 49 largest information communications and technology companies in the world and ranked them based on efforts to identify and eliminate forced labor, human trafficking, and other worker abuses involved in the manufacturing of their products. The average score was a dismal 30/100. Apple was one of the better companies on the list, scoring 68/100. Companies doing better than Apple at evaluating their supply chain are U.S.’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. (70/100), U.S.’s HP Inc. (69/100), South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (69/100), and U.S.’s Intel Corp. (68/100).

The lowest scoring companies were China’s BOE Technology Group Co. Ltd. (5/100), Taiwan’s Largan Precision Co. Ltd. (3/100), China’s Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Ltd. (3/100), and China’s Xiaomi Corp. (0/100). While China and Taiwan have companies in the bottom five, low-scoring companies domiciled in other countries were noted in Know the Chain’s report: U.S.’s Broadcom Inc. (10/100), Germany’s Infineon Technologies (9/100), Sweden’s Hexagon (8/100), and Japan’s Keyence Corp. (6/100).

Of the biggest players in the tech world, Microsoft scored 59/100 and Amazon 43/100.

It is telling that Apple is one of the better companies on the list. The integrated nature of global supply chains means it is likely that the products we use every day are connected, in part, to a form of modern-day slavery. That’s something to think about when we hear references to and echoes of historical instances of slavery.


You may also wish to read:

Clothing retailer H&M Canceled for revealing China’s forced labor
About a fifth of the world’s cotton is grown in Xinjiang, for which Uyghur labor is conscripted, partly through the detention camps complex. The Chinese government tightly controls a huge consumer market and can simply make companies with ethical concerns disappear from it. Fast. (Heather Zeiger)

and

In China, forced Uyghur labor produces many fashionable products Industries such as fashion and solar panels rely heavily on supplies from detention centers and concentration camps in China. Growing numbers of journalists and international organizations are monitoring forced labor and identifying the industries that are buying the products. (Heather Zeiger)


Heather Zeiger

Heather Zeiger is a freelance science writer in Dallas, TX. She has advanced degrees in chemistry and bioethics and writes on the intersection of science, technology, and society. She also serves as a research analyst with The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity. Heather writes for bioethics.com, Salvo Magazine, and her work has appeared in RelevantMercatorNet, Quartz, and The New Atlantis.

Apple’s Supply Chain Includes Forced Labor in China