While Apple says it has a thorough system of checks to ensure components used in its products are produced in an ethical manner, a new report claims that well known Apple supplier Lens Technology uses forced labour comprised of Uighur Muslim workers in China.
The report is derived from publicly available information gathered by the Tech Transparency Project that was later shared with the Washington Post, with the report accusing Lens Technology of using thousands of Uighur laborers sent to work in the company’s factories predominantly from China’s Xinjian region. For years, Lens Technology has supplied Apple, along with other big name tech companies including Amazon, Motorola, and Tesla, with electronic components such as cover glass, touch sensor modules, and more.
In its report, Tech Transparency Project director Katie Paul says “Our research shows that Apple’s use of forced labour in its supply chain goes far beyond what the company has acknowledged.”
However, in a comment made to the Washington Post, Apple spokesperson Josh Rosenstock claims the opposite, saying Lens Technology “has not received any labour transfers of Uighur workers from Xinjian,” and that earlier this year Apple “ensured that none of its other suppliers are using Uighur labour transferred from Xinjian.”
Furthermore, Rosenstock says “Apple has zero tolerance for forced labour. Looking for the presence of forced labour is part of every supplier assessment we conduct, including surprise audits. These protections apply across the supply chain, regardless of a person’s job or location. Any violation of our policies has immediate consequences, including possible business termination. As always, our focus is on making sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and we will continue doing all we can to protect workers in our supply chain.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese government also denies these claims, with China’s Foreign Ministry telling the Washington Post that the use of forced labour in China is “nonexistent.”
That said, while Apple claims it has no tolerance for forced labour, multiple reports from earlier this fall published by the New York Times and the Washington Post detailed lobbying efforts by Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, and others to weaken a bill that would ban the sale and import of goods produced by forced labour from China’s Xinjian region.
At its core, the issue of Lens Technology’s use of forced labour revolves around China’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur people, who for years have been uprooted from their homes in northwest China, sent to “re-education camps,” and subjected to population control and forced sterilization by the Chinese government. As part of their forced indoctrination, detained Uighur Muslims are often sent to work in a number of factories across China, whose goods may end up products sold in the U.S. and across the globe.
The Chinese government claims these labour transfers are part of a poverty alleviation project designed to help train Uighur workers, though with reports of some workers having to choose between “accepting” a job or being sent to a detention centre, many have questioned the ability for Uighurs Muslims in China to provide reasonable consent.
Apple says that in 2019, Lens Technology was one of over 1,000 suppliers audited by Apple to ensure that each company is acting in accordance with its supplier code of conduct, as detailed in part in the company’s annual progress report.
However, with Apple facing increased scrutiny, it falls upon Apple to further highlight its efforts to prevent the use of forced labour in its supply chain while it continues to move some of its operations out of China and into other countries including India.