Apple is constantly portrayed in popular media as a benevolent giant, an occasional victim of a corrupt world supply chain, and pro-consumer firm focused on engineering the best products to provide a human centric experience to their end users. The small token gestures they have made towards their “ethics” stand in contrast to their true record.

Apple is now making a concerted effort to weaken provisions of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, according to a report from the Washington Post. This proposed law would force companies to ensure their supply chain is free of forced labor by requiring certification of goods produced in the Xinjiang Region of China, a location now infamous for the mass internment of millions of minority Uighurs in concentration camps.

Those concentration camps, whose existence was initially denied by the PRC, and then later labelled as vocational training centers, have been at the center of repeated scandals involving the clear use of forced labor by inmates at the facilities.

Xinjiang is a large cotton producer, and several large apparel companies have already been implicated in the web of relying on forced labor in their supply chains. These include such giants as Costco, Amazon, Victoria’s Secret, the Inditex group, former Nazi firms Adidas and Puma, and most egregiously Muji and Uniqlo who in 2019 were lambasted for publicly flouting their use of “Xinjiang Cotton,” the modern equivalent of advertising the use of “conflict diamonds.”

Despite the focus on the apparel industry for goods produced only in Xinjiang, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) identified several hundred Uighur workers being transferred to plants in Eastern China directly producing components for Apple, potentially implicating them even outside Xinjiang.

Apple, despite being the world’s most valuable company, possesses no independent manufacturing capacity whatsoever, and instead contracts the production of components and their assembly through a web of manufacturing chains, mostly reliant on Foxconn (Hon Hai). Foxconn is run by Terry Guo (郭台銘), a failed Chinese Nationalist Party politician in Taiwan who, because of his close personal and business ties with the PRC supports Taiwanese accomodationism to Chinese communism. In the depths of the economic fallout of the Wuhan coronavirus as well as supply chain disruptions, Guo largely resisted efforts to move any of the larger supply chain out of the PRC, seemingly indifferent to component shortages.

The ASPI report outlines in detail Apple’s connection to the plants, who relied on hundreds of Uighur workers who were not independently hired, but contracted out by the Xinjiang local government en masse, and required to, “put in at least 100 overtime hours a month.” The report adds that “graduating’ detainees from Xinjiang’s ‘re-education camps’ have been sent directly to factories to work in other parts of China… it is unlikely that their work arrangements are voluntary.”

The Communist Party official who “welcomed the Xinjiang workers, “put forward three demands: for the workers to exercise gratitude to the Communist Party, for the managers to increase surveillance and intensify patriotic education, and for the workers to quickly blend in.”

Apple aims to deny responsibility and liability for the potential use of slave labor in their supply chain, despite their preference for American outsourcing of  production to totalitarian states as a cost saving measure.

The number of firms potentially connected to this trade suggests that resistance to the passage of this bill will be fierce.

Staff writer: Ari B