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Apple is lobbying against the Uighur forced labor bill

Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because talks with the company were held in private, said Apple was one of many US companies opposing the bill as it was written. They declined to disclose details about the specific provisions that Apple was trying to overturn or change because they feared the knowledge would identify them to Apple. But both described Apple’s efforts as an attempt to reduce the bill.

“What Apple would like is that we all just sit and talk and have no real consequences,”

; said Kathy Feingold, director of the AFL-CIO’s international division, who backed the bill. “They are shocked because for the first time there can be a truly effective implementation.”

Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock said the company “is committed to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect.” We abhor forced labor and support the goals of the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act. We share the committee’s goal of eradicating forced labor and strengthening US law, and we will continue to work with them to achieve this. He said the company earlier this year “conducted a detailed investigation with our suppliers in China and found no evidence of forced labor on Apple’s production lines, and we continue to monitor this closely.”

Apple’s lobbying firm, Fierce Government Relations, has revealed that it is lobbying for the bill on behalf of Apple in a disclosure form that was first reported by Information. However, the form did not say whether Apple was for or against the bill or wanted to change it in any way. Lobbying forms do not require this information. Fierce directed The Washington Post to Apple’s public relations team.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly stated that Apple does not tolerate forced labor in its supply chain. “Forced labor is disgusting,” Cook said in a July congressional hearing. “We would not tolerate it at Apple,” he said, adding that “Apple will terminate its relationship with a supplier if it is found.”

The new bill would make it harder for US companies to ignore abuses in China and give US authorities more power to enforce the law. A provision in the bill requires public companies to certify to the Securities and Exchange Commission that their products are not forcibly manufactured by Xinjiang. If companies are found to have used forced labor in the region, they can be prosecuted for securities violations.

Although US law already prevents companies from importing goods produced by forced labor, the law is rarely enforced and it is difficult to prove that American companies are aware of the use of forced labor.

The Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act passed 406 to 3 in the House in September. People involved in the legislation said the clothing industry was surprised by how quickly it passed without much lobbying.

Now that the bill, sponsored by Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) And Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Is before the US Senate, corporations are making more concerted efforts to draft it. part to blunt some of its tougher provisions, according to the two congressional officials. Some companies have lobbied for their names to be removed from the account, these people say, as it calls for specific brands such as Patagonia, Coca-Cola and Costco, which are said to use forced labor from the region. He does not name Apple.

Patagonia, Coca-Cola and Costco did not respond to requests for comment.

The bill focuses mainly on the textile and other low-tech industries. For example, Xinjiang sugar has infiltrated Coca-Cola, and tomatoes have been used in Heinz ketchup, according to human rights reports.

Michael Mullen, senior vice president of Kraft Heinz, said in a written statement that the company’s suppliers were audited by a third party and that the audits did not identify “any problems.” He said that “if problems related to inappropriate work practices are found, we will take immediate action.” Mullen declined to name the audit firm. Most companies have stopped auditing in Xinjiang due to restrictions imposed by the Chinese government.

Compliance with the new bill could be costly for companies, especially in the textile industry, where cotton is woven into clothing around the world, making it difficult and expensive to track. The Xinjiang region is known as a center for the production of cotton, and clothing has gained most of the attention for the use of textiles produced by alleged forced labor in the region.

Part of the SEC bill reflects a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act that requires companies to notify the government if their products contain conflicting minerals from the Congo. This provision of the Dodd-Frank Act creates headaches for companies that import gold. Companies are concerned that the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act could create similar problems, according to lawmakers.

As China has relocated Uighur Muslims outside Xinjiang to work in other parts of the country, human rights activists say it can be difficult for any US company operating in China to make sure benefits, even indirectly, from forced labor.

Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, was conquered by China in the 1700s, and the Turkic Muslims living there have long fought against Chinese rule. But in recent years, the Chinese government has taken repressive measures against Muslims, aided by advanced surveillance technologies such as artificial intelligence and face recognition, a digital iron grip that is taking over the population.

With about 1 million to 2 million people housed in camps, human rights groups call the situation in Xinjiang a cultural genocide. Some of those who “graduate” from the camps, renouncing Islam and learning to speak Mandarin fluently, have been relocated to factories in Xinjiang and surrounding areas.

The Chinese government has challenged the program’s characterization as “camps,” saying they are vocational training centers for reforming juvenile delinquents. Under heavy international pressure, officials announced the end of the program in December 2019, saying all students had graduated successfully. It has been confirmed that some of the centers have been liberated, although some overseas Uighurs claim that relatives remain detained or missing.

But China thwarted human rights efforts in Xinjiang. Diplomats and foreign journalists, who have visited the region almost universally, say they have been repeatedly detained by authorities and blocked from approaching areas where the camps are located. Recent satellite images show that the bearings are growing, not shrinking.

Although it is unknown how much electronics production there is in the region, some human rights organizations believe that there are factories that produce electronic components in Xinjiang. And private companies that act as brokers for workers in Xinjiang have arranged for workers to be transferred from concentration camps to electronics factories outside Xinjiang, according to human rights reports.

A report by the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy in March identified four alleged cases in which the Xinjiang region’s workforce is linked to Apple’s supply chain. The report claims that the workers may have been coerced or coerced, but does not offer evidence to support working conditions.

Apple products include thousands of components manufactured by suppliers around the world. The company has a code of conduct for suppliers and says it has evaluated 1,142 suppliers in 49 countries in 2019, ensuring that good working conditions are maintained. Apple has released an annual progress report documenting the results.Workplace rights are human rights. We require suppliers to provide fair working hours, a safe workplace and a non-discriminatory environment, ”the company said on its website.

The Australian report claims that in 2017, the Chinese government transferred between 1,000 and 2,000 Uighurs to work in a factory owned by O-Film, which helps make selfies for Apple’s iPhone. Apple’s cookie announced its visit to the factory for O-Film in December 2017, posing for a photo in front of a microscope on the factory floor, dressed in a clean blue overall. “Take a closer look at the remarkable, precise work involved in the production of selfie cameras for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X at O-Film,” Cook wrote on China’s social networking site Weibo.

According to the report, O-Film also supplies other US companies such as Dell, HP, Amazon and General Motors. (Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Dell spokesman Lauren Lee said O-Film’s subsidiary is a supplier to the company, but Dell is not doing business with the O-Film factory listed. in the report. Amazon confirmed the report and condemned forced labor in a statement on its website. General Motors said in its latest sustainability report that it had investigated the allegations and terminated its relationship with the supplier.

An article in a Chinese newspaper from May 2017 covers the transfer of Uighur labor to the O-Film factory. The article turned the story around, mentioning alleged forced laborers as “urban and rural redundant workers” who “came out of their homes to work on the continent to earn money and create a happy life with their difficult working hands. “

An Australian report quoting a local government document from September 2019 states that 560 workers from Xinjiang were transferred to Henan Province and that some of those workers ended up at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant, otherwise known as the iPhone City. where half of Apple’s flagship products are assembled.

The report also cites a 2018 speech by a Chinese government official announcing the relocation of workers from Xinjiang to the Hubei Ihong factory, which the report said was the parent company of an Apple supplier. According to the report, the factory’s website reports that it has supplied GoerTek, which makes AirPods to Apple. In his speech, the official described labor transfers as a “green channel” and ordered workers to be “grateful” to the Chinese Communist Party.

“Migrant workers from Xinjiang should look at the factory as their home and strive to be exceptional employees,” the employee said. The factory is said to be supplying other US electronics manufacturers such as Oculus to Facebook, Microsoft and Google, according to the report. GoerTek did not respond to a request for comment. Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s vice president of corporate communications, said the company “decided that O-Film and Hubei Yihong were not suppliers to our devices or our cloud hardware business.” He added that Microsoft had investigated alleged labor violations. in Foxconn, but found no violations. “We do not tolerate forced labor in our supply chain,” he said.

The Australian report also cites an article for 2018 by Xinjiang Economic News, which reported that 544 Uighur students had been transferred to a subsidiary of Highbroad Advanced Material, a manufacturer of LCD and OLED components. The report claims that Highbroad is a supplier to BOE Technology Group, a maker of OLED screens for Apple, according to Apple’s list of suppliers. BOE did not respond to a request for comment.

In August, the Technology Transparency Project revealed supply data showing that Apple was importing cotton T-shirts from a company in Xinjiang, which Congress imposed sanctions on for alleged use of forced labor. At the time, Apple said it did not currently import shirts from the region.

“I’m not entirely surprised that Apple would be involved in trying to reduce human rights law in China,” said Maya Wang, a Chinese researcher at Human Rights Watch. However, she called Apple’s lobbying efforts “unscrupulous.”

Eva Do participates in this article.

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