REPORT: Uighur Slaves Forced to Work in Apple Supplier’s Factory

An iPhone assembly worker in China/PHOTO: DanielFoster437 via Flickr (CC)

As reports increased this year that China has greatly expanded its facilities that detain and utilize Uighurs as slave labor, new evidence indicates a key supplier for Apple Inc. is using transferred workers from among the Muslim minority ethnic group.

In an article published Tuesday by the Washington Post, the Tech Transparency Project revealed documents that indicate the Chinese government is transporting involuntary laborers from the region of Xinjiang – where Uighurs have been reportedly abused and undergo “re-education” to learn fealty to the communists – to a Lens Technology factory in Hunan, in central China.

The company has long manufactured cover glass for Apple’s iPhone.

Tech Transparency Project, a left-leaning nonprofit watchdog of the major Silicon Valley technology companies, based its findings in part on evidence deciphered from propaganda in Chinese media. Darren Byler, a research anthropologist at the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Colorado, confirmed their analysis for the Post.

One article, published in August 2019 by the Global Times in China, said workers were flown by the by the Xinjiang-Suzhou Chamber of Commerce and “was painted as a positive effort to offer jobs to people who are unemployed,” according to the Post:

The text of the (Times) article uses language that human rights groups say reveals the workers might not be going by choice. The Chamber of Commerce highlighted the use of its “paramilitary” style of managing the workers to keep them “organized, disciplined, regulated,” according to the article.

The Xinjiang-Suzhou Chamber of Commerce article refers to “management cadres” accompanying Uighur workers for “logistics support.” According to Byler, “cadres” is often a bureaucratic term for government officials who oversee the political education of the Uighur workers and enforce bans on religious practice.

“The cadres have the authority to send people back to Xinjiang, place them in camps,” Byler said…

Labor transfers to Lens Technology go back at least two years, according to the recently uncovered documents. A notice from the Turpan Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, posted on a Chinese job recruitment site in 2018, announced the planned transfer of 1,000 “surplus urban and rural labor” to Lens Technology. The notice instructs local towns and villages to publicize the effort in order to get voluntary sign-ups. To get a job, applicants must pass a “political review,” according to the posting, carried out by local police and approved by the National Security Brigade.

As part of the review, the notice says, information on Uighur workers will then be sent to the Integrated Joint Operations Platform. According to Human Rights Watch, the Integrated Joint Operations Platform is a database operated by the Chinese government that stores surveillance data and helps authorities determine whether Uighurs should be sent to detention facilities. Byler said it is the first time he has seen direct evidence that the Integrated Joint Operations Platform has been used in China’s “forced labor scheme,” as he calls it.

In another alleged propaganda video, posted online in 2019, Uighur workers are seen attending a National Day celebration in front of a red banner that reads “All Workers Sent by the Kashgar Region Human Resources and Social Security Bureau to Lens Tech: Welcome National Day — Sing Red Songs. Be grateful to The Party.” Kashgar is a city in the Xinjiang region.

Apple, which issues an annual report that addresses worker conditions across its massive supply chain, told the Post it has confirmed that no Uighur laborers were transferred to Lens Technology.

“Apple has zero tolerance for forced labor,” said spokesman Josh Rosenstock. “Looking for the presence of forced labor 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.”

The denial might ring more true if other evidence didn’t point to a cozy relationship with the communist government, while Apple also works to prevent potential penalties by the U.S. government over the company’s labor engagement and practices in dictatorial foreign countries.

Earlier this month two anonymous Congressional sources told the Washington Post that Apple was pushing its lobbyists to water down the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which has already passed the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to force companies to ensure that they or their suppliers do not use coerced labor from the persecuted Muslim group.

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 three manufacturers of Apple parts use forced Uighur labor that has been relocated to factories in other parts of China: BOE Technology, which makes LCD screens, and O-Film, which makes cameras and lenses, and Hubei Yihong Precision Manufacturing, whose parent company lists Apple as a customer. The report also identified transfer of workers to a Foxconn factory, known worldwide for its assembly of iPhones.

And Apple and CEO Tim Cook have a history of appeasement of the Chinese government, modifying or censoring its products and offerings in its App Store to meet the communists’ demands. 

Over the last five month Buzzfeed News has run a series of stories that have exposed how China has vastly expanded its prison camps throughout its western region where the Uighurs reside. Its most recent article, published Monday, revealed that at least 135 factories exist among the compounds. Human rights watchdogs say it is impossible for any business to utilize labor from the Xinjiang region and know for sure that it isn’t coerced slavery.

Regardless, the low worker rights standards and mysterious mess that is China’s evil, oppressive regime, reflect poorly on Apple and its relentless pursuit of cheap labor – regardless of where in the communist country it operates.