REPORT: Apple Lobbying to Water Down Bill That Would Protect Uyghurs

Tim Cook in China

Last month National Legal and Policy Center reported, based on disclosure reports discovered by tech news Web site The Information, that Apple Inc. had hired a Washington lobbying firm to aid its efforts to modify the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

It wasn’t known at the time what influence Apple hoped to exert on the shaping of the bill, but considering the company’s extensive use of Chinese labor to assemble its products and their parts, the suspicion was that it hoped to ease any restrictions and penalties.

Now, two anonymous Congressional sources cited by the Washington Post say that Apple does want the legislation watered down. 

The Act seeks to force companies to ensure that they or their suppliers do not use coerced labor from the persecuted Muslim Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China. The people group has reportedly been subjected to persecution, genocide, force abortions, and re-education camps by the communist government.

The Congressional staffers told the Post that Apple was one of several companies who want the legislation changed.

“They declined to disclose details on the specific provisions Apple was trying to knock down or change because they feared providing that knowledge would identify them to Apple,” the newspaper reported.

According to the report, the legislation would force companies into greater accountability over the labor they utilize. It is already illegal in the United States to source products made with slave or coerced workers. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would require companies to attest to the Securities and Exchange Commission that their goods weren’t made under such conditions. If they falsely report the nature of their suppliers’ labor conditions, the companies would be subject to legal action from the SEC for securities violations.

The House passed the legislation 406-3 in September, and it now awaits action in the Senate.

“What Apple would like is we all just sit and talk and not have any real consequences,” said Cathy Feingold, director of the international department for the AFL-CIO, to the Post. “They’re shocked because it’s the first time where there could be some actual effective enforceability.”

Indeed, there appears to be stronger sentiment and efforts than ever to call the communist Chinese to account over their human rights abuses. Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee – as well as many others – have led or co-sponsored bills that attempt to rein in China. And the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act has 88 co-sponsors in the House, from Democrat “Squad” Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) on the far left, to conservative Freedom Caucus members Mark Meadows (a former Representative from NC, now President Trump’s chief of staff) and Jody Hice (Ga.) on the right.

For its part, Apple says it is committed to workers’ human rights.

“Forced labor is abhorrent,” said CEO Tim Cook in a congressional hearing in July. “We would not tolerate it in Apple.”

As for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a company spokesman did not specifically state what its goals are.

The company “is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect,” said Josh Rosenstock to the Post. “We abhor forced labor and support the goals of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. We share the committee’s goal of eradicating forced labor and strengthening U.S. law, and we will continue working with them to achieve that.”

The company said in its May “Supplier Responsibility Report” that 82% of suppliers were “high performers” and the “low performers” fell to a record of below 1%.

But investigative efforts in recent months found that Apple utilized Chinese companies that operate in Xinjiang as part of their supply chain. A report released in March by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute determined that at least two manufacturers of Apple parts use forced Uyghur labor: BOE Technology, which makes LCD screens, and O-Film, which makes cameras and lenses.

The Post also referenced the ASPI report:

The Australian report, citing a local government document from September 2019, alleges that 560 Xinjiang laborers were transferred to the Henan province and that some of those workers ended up in Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory, otherwise known as “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 transfer of workers from Xinjiang to the Hubei Yihong factory, which the report alleges is the parent company of an Apple supplier. According to the report, the factory’s website said it supplied GoerTek, which makes Apple’s AirPods. In the speech, the official referred to the labor transfers as a “green channel” and ordered workers to be “grateful” to the Chinese Communist Party.

As NLPC reported last month, Apple and CEO Cook have a history of coziness with the communist Chinese. Conservative news site The National Pulse reminded its readers how a 2015 visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Microsoft’s headquarters drew many top Big Tech CEOs, including Cook, who the New York Times said fawned over the communist leader. After posing for a picture with him, the Times said Cook was “impressed” and, with a smile, inquired, “did you feel the room shake?”

National Legal and Policy Center has reported many times in recent years that Apple has repeatedly capitulated to ChiCom demands that it adjust or remove features on its products. And RealClearInvestigations summarized it well last month:

In years past, Apple has removed an app that carried news of the Hong Kong demonstrations; it pulled another enabling access to the New York Times Chinese-language website; and yet another for a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, that allows a way around China’s internet “great firewall.” In 2016, it removed from the Hong Kong version of Apple Music a song containing a reference to the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, public mention of which is forbidden in China.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, if it isn’t amended, would appear to force Apple and other companies to actually do something to protect oppressed workers in China.

But it looks like they are lobbying to retain their lip service policy instead.