Report: Apple trying to water down Chinese prison labor law

From “Apple is lobbying against a bill aimed at stopping forced labor in China” posted by the Washington Post Friday afternoon:

Apple lobbyists are trying to weaken a new law aimed at preventing forced labor in China, according to two congressional staffers familiar with the matter, highlighting the clash between its business imperatives and its official stance on human rights.

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.

“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.” 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 production lines, and we are continuing to monitor this closely.”

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

My take: The article goes on to say that the bill is aimed primarily at the textile industry and that unlike Patagonia, Coca-Cola and Costco, Apple is not named in it. But still. Apple has worked too hard to clean up its supply chain to put its reputation in the hands of a company called Fierce Government Relations.

11 Comments

  1. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    Without the sources being willing to disclose which parts of the bill, if any, Apple opposes, this story has suspect value, in my view. I consider the story incomplete. Apple has a strong and public position on human rights and on combatting workplace exploitation. I will withhold judgement on the story and Apple’s position on the proposed legislation until it’s known what components of the legislation Apple might oppose, if any, and the reasons the company might be concerned about the legislation as written.

    4
    November 20, 2020
  2. Fred Stein said:
    I read the article. It is complex. As RPL above says, without specifics, the phrase ‘water down’ cannot be applied. Apple may well oppose poorly written sections.

    Example: According to the article, China sends the ‘trained graduates’ of its ‘camps’ to other work in other parts of the country. While this is wrong, how can Apple or other companies trace 100% of the work force in their supply chains.

    See next:

    1
    November 20, 2020
  3. Fred Stein said:
    From the article: “Forced labor is abhorrent,” Cook said in a congressional hearing in July. “We would not tolerate it in Apple,” he said, adding that Apple would “terminate a supplier relationship if it were found.”

    The last quote says it all.

    1
    November 20, 2020
  4. Fred Stein said:
    Also from the article: “A March report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute identified four alleged instances in which labor from the Xinjiang region has been connected to Apple’s supply chain. The report alleges that the workers were likely to have been forced or coerced, but it did not offer proof confirming the work terms and conditions.”

    Key words and phrases: allege, connected, “did not offer proof”.

    3
    November 20, 2020
  5. Gregg Thurman said:
    Key words and phrases: allege, connected, “did not offer proof”.

    Media speak for: “We’re not going to let confirmation of allegations stand between us and a good headline”.

    4
    November 20, 2020
  6. Jerry Doyle said:
    At what juncture is a foreign company expected to depart from its role of monitoring product work activity and labor force treatment before pursuing a path as a foreign investigator for human rights violations originating from outside sources of its supply chain?

    As a former Union Local president and former National Executive VP of a Council in the AFGE of the AFL-CIO, I am an ardent supporter in building social protections for workers. Foreign companies, though, operating in an authoritarian country not part of the elite government and business networks cannot be expected to glean investigatory information from the foreign policy apparatus of that country in which the company’s supply chain exist. Openness will come only through the forced demand for such information generated through international organizations involved in formulating trade agreements by demanding access for inspection where there is belief that human rights violations exist. Establishing common protections for its workers and for their working environment is enough burden for a company operating in a foreign land, and the establishment of those common protections to its workers is sufficient justification on its own moral and political terms. To place the burden for such in-depth oversight and regulatory responsibility on a company operating in a foreign country dominated by a totalitarian regime, is ludicrous.

    3
    November 20, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      And it seems to me that a government regulatory framework would preclude a corporation from pursuing alternative efforts that might be more productive.

      1
      November 20, 2020
  7. Bart Yee said:
    Perhaps part of the issue is simply not to continue to ratchet up friction between the US and China during a time of potential administration transition. Apple may be seeking to minimize intended or unintended consequences, direct or indirect consequences that could occur with passage of such a bill – such as re-igniting nationalistic buying, further Chinese denouncements of interference in its internal affairs, or simply getting painted with a textile industry’s labor problem brush.

    2
    November 21, 2020
  8. Mordechai Beizer said:
    It’s a story from The Washington Post. I would certainly withhold judgement on any such story given the Post’s tendency to conflate opinion and reporting.

    1
    November 21, 2020
  9. Thomas Larkin said:
    IMHO, Ms Feingold has a huge integrity problem, evidenced by the inflammatory and baseless speculation as to what Apple might be thinking, and the implication it’s done nothing when in fact it has done so much. The Washington Post of course has some excellent writers, but this points out how journalistic integrity has suffered as a result of the click-bait economy. The real news would be in the cross examination or fact checking.

    0
    November 21, 2020

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