Apple iPhone supplier is accused of using Uighur Muslims as forced labour in Chinese factories

An iPhone parts supplier has been accused of using Uighur Muslims as forced labour at its factories in China

The US-based Tech Transparency Project alleges that thousands of Uighur workers from Xinjiang were sent to work for Chinese firm Lens Technology in ‘labour transfers’ which watchdogs have linked to human rights abuses.  

The Apple supplier, which makes glass screen covers for iPhones, is said to have received Uighur workers in conditions which hinted at involuntary labour and ‘political education’. 

Apple denied the allegations published in the Washington Post, saying it had confirmed that Lens Technology was not using transferred Uighur workers. 

A company in Apple's iPhone supply chain has been accused of using Muslim Uighurs as forced labour in China (pictured, the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a 'vocational skills education centre' in Xinjiang, where human rights groups say up to a million Uighurs have been detained)

A company in Apple’s iPhone supply chain has been accused of using Muslim Uighurs as forced labour in China (pictured, the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a ‘vocational skills education centre’ in Xinjiang, where human rights groups say up to a million Uighurs have been detained) 

The Tech Transparency Project claims to have documents showing that as many as 1,000 people designated as ‘surplus urban and rural labour’ were transferred to Lens Technology as long ago as 2018. 

A job posting said that workers would have to pass a ‘political review’ and that information about Uighur labourers would be added to a Chinese government database, it is claimed. 

In 2019, more workers were allegedly transferred to a Lens Technology campus in Hunan, in what official media described as an effort to provide unemployment relief.

But human rights groups say the language of the article suggested the that workers might not be going by choice, according to the Post. 

Darren Byler, a Uighur expert at the University of Colorado, said official statements had referred to Chinese ‘cadres’ who sometimes oversee ‘political education’.

‘The cadres have the authority to send people back to Xinjiang, place them in camps,’ he said. 

Byler added that ‘there’s really no way to give informed consent in Xinjiang any longer because the threat of extrajudicial detention is so extreme’. 

While Lens Technology did not comment, China’s foreign ministry denied claims of forced labour and Apple said it had ‘zero tolerance’ for the practice. 

‘Looking for the presence of forced labour is part of every supplier assessment we conduct, including surprise audits,’ said Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock. 

He added that any violation of Apple’s policies would lead to ‘immediate consequences’ and vowed that the company would ‘continue doing all we can to protect workers in our supply chain’.   

Apple denied the allegations about its iPhone supply chain, saying it had confirmed that Lens Technology was not using transferred Uighur workers (file photo)

Apple denied the allegations about its iPhone supply chain, saying it had confirmed that Lens Technology was not using transferred Uighur workers (file photo) 

Human rights groups claim that up to a million Uighurs have been detained in a Chinese ‘re-education’ drive which some have likened to Nazi concentration camps. 

Earlier this month, the UK government said there was ‘credible, growing and troubling’ evidence of forced labour among Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. 

China rejects the claims, insisting that ‘people in Xinjiang enjoy a happy life’ and that the region’s population has more than doubled in recent decades. 

Earlier this month, Apple faced a separate supply chain row when workers in India staged a protest at working conditions at their Taiwanese-owned factory. 

Protests turned violent in India’s tech hub of Bangalore after thousands of workers at Wistron Corp gathered to demand unpaid wages and better working hours. 

As police arrived, footage showed people armed with rods and sticks smashing equipment and vandalising cars, causing up to $7.1million in damage. 

The All India Central Council of Trade Unions said workers were being subjected to ‘extremely exploitative sweatshop-like working conditions’. 

Apple said it was sending staff and auditors to the site, while Wistron said in a regulatory filing in Taiwan that it ‘always abides by the law’.  

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