According to two congressional staffers who The Washington Post claims are “familiar with the matter,” Apple lobbyists are trying to weaken a bill aimed at preventing Uighur forced labor in China.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would require U.S. companies to guarantee they do not use imprisoned or coerced workers from the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang, where academic researchers estimate the Chinese government has placed more than 1 million people into internment camps. Apple is heavily dependent on Chinese manufacturing, and human rights reports have identified instances in which alleged forced Uighur labor has been used in Apple’s supply chain.
The staffers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks with the company took place in private meetings, said Apple was one of many U.S. companies that oppose the bill as it’s written. 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. But they both characterized Apple’s effort as an attempt to water down the bill.
“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, which has supported the bill. “They’re shocked because it’s the first time where there could be some actual effective enforceability.”
Apple spokesperson Josh Rosenstock said the company “is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect. 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.”
Now that the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is in front of the U.S. Senate, corporations have made more of a concerted effort to shape it, in part to blunt some of its sharper provisions, according to the two congressional staffers.
MacDailyNews Take: So, the issues are manyfold. One provision in the bill requires public companies to certify to the SEC that their products are not made using forced labor from Xinjiang. If companies are found to have used forced labor from the region, they could be prosecuted for securities violations. But, China has transferred Uighurs out of Xinjiang to work in other parts of the country, so it’s difficult, if not downright impossible, for any company to ensure that Uighur forced labor isn’t involved, even indirectly.
Therefore, you’d have a law that can extract penalties from companies that are forced to certify something to the SEC that cannot reasonably be known. So, actions that some (two anonymous “congressional staffers” from among a nearly uncountable number of congressional staffers) may wish to characterize as attempts to “water down,” may in actuality be companies’ striving to craft a law that’s instead realistic and useful rather than a mechanism that can be used to extract fines from companies, at any time, without end, even from those like Apple that are clearly trying to do the right things in China.
Forced labor is abhorrent and we would not tolerate it in Apple and so I would love to get with your office and engage on the legislation… We wouldn’t tolerate it. We would terminate a supplier relationship if it were found. — Apple CEO responding to questions from Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO) in July 2020
Apple’s 2020 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report is here.