- The Uyghur people of Western China are a mostly Muslim minority group allegedly subjected to human rights abuses, such as mass incarceration, indoctrination, and forced labor.
- International human rights authorities allege China forces Uyghurs in Xinjiang to work in factories under brutal conditions.
- The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to crack down on China’s use of forced labor.
- Congressional staff members report that Apple attempted to weaken the bill; however, specifics of requested changes remain undisclosed.
- House members passed the anti-forced labor bill by an overwhelming 406 to 3 votes, with Apple and other corporations unable to water it down.
Apple and Other Corporations Attempt to Weaken Forced Labor Bill
The global economy tends to favor manufacturing in regions with low labor costs. Although automation makes offshore manufacturing less appealing, manual labor is still vital for some industries, particularly textiles.
Offshore manufacturing is a contentious issue. An estimated three to five million jobs have been eliminated in the United States since 1979 due to offshored manufacturing. Beyond job losses, overseas factories are often not subject to occupational safety regulations. In some cases, governments force people to work in factories, with no recourse, for little pay.
Mounting evidence suggests that China’s campaign against its Muslim Ughyur minority group involves mass incarceration, brainwashing, and forced labor. Although China denies these practices and contends that actions against Ughyurs are a response to terrorist attacks, the U.S. House of Representatives recently took action, passing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) by an overwhelming majority.
Apple, a supposed proponent of human rights, reportedly sought to undermine the UFLPA, along with Nike and Coca-Cola. Congressional staffers reported that lobbyists working on behalf of Apple attempted to water down the bill but could not do so. Details remain obfuscated, as they would quickly identify sources. The House staff members admitted that several corporations sought to weaken the bill.
How Might Have Apple Attempted to Dilute the UFLPA?
Although details are scant, reading the bill and examining Apple’s manufacturing practices may shed light on possible objections to the act. The most obvious item is a broad mandate banning importation of any Chinese goods or components made with forced labor:
“(1) to prohibit the import of all goods, wares, articles, or merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, by forced labor from the People’s Republic of China and particularly any such goods, wares, articles, or merchandise produced in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China;”
Other mandates in the bill don’t seem to concern Apple and other corporations, as they do not pertain to manufacturing or international trade. Apple likely objected to the breadth of the import ban. The bill’s wording could potentially restrict anything produced with forced labor. Although the iPhone’s assembly does not use forced labor, Apple’s partners may manufacture some components under deplorable conditions.
Kinks in Apple’s supply chain could pose severe problems due to its products’ homogeneous design. Many Apple products are merely different takes on the iPhone. The iPad, for example, uses many of the same components as the iPhone. Newer Macs now use similar ARM-based processors as the iPhone and iPad. This saves costs, realizing economies of scale benefits, but it also creates dependence on a few manufacturers. If one part falls short due to an import ban, it could ripple across Apple’s entire supply chain.
Manufactures with diverse product lines that don’t sell tens of millions of units can quickly pivot to alternative parts and components. Many of these companies, based overseas, can ignore the UFLPA because they’re not subject to U.S. law. It’s unclear whether the import ban is sophisticated enough to restrict a fully assembled product due to the presence of one component made with forced labor. The law’s wording does suggest that the UFLPA covers such products, but can it be enforced?
Forced Labor Ignored in United States
While Congress was busy drafting and passing a law to curb overseas forced labor, our government ignores brutal labor practices in its own backyard. Countless labor abuses, particularly in agriculture, occur in our own nation without much acknowledgment.
PBS Frontline produced a documentary about egg farms in Ohio staffed by de facto child slaves. Traffickers go to Guatemala and promise prosperity in exchange for a child to work in the U.S. In many cases, families pay traffickers up to $15,000 for this “privilege”, which ends up enslaving their child. Once here, the children must work for no pay in horrible conditions.
They’re neither fed nor paid by their employer. Offloaded to the public education system for victuals, they sleep in class, covered with chicken feces and feathers, after working through the night and early morning. Misled by employers who claim they must pay off a debt, the children and their families receive no financial support whatsoever.
The United States loves to point fingers at human rights abuses worldwide; however, our nation could do better itself. Child slave labor is even worse than forced labor, and it happens in supposedly the greatest country in the world. It’s difficult to hold a moral high ground, protesting Chinese labor practices, with eggs on our plates produced by child slave labor in Ohio farms.
The most shocking aspect of the PBS Frontline documentary is our government’s complicity in this matter. When children escape the egg farms, Health and Human Services eventually return them to enslavement. Our government is not only aware of the problem — it’s complicit.
The issue of forced labor also demonstrates the hypocrisy of the U.S. government and corporations like Apple. Apple, in particular, makes grandiose claims of environmental and humanitarian actions. Some of these are true, but with forced labor, it’s clear the company is more concerned with profit.
Our own government’s behavior, enslaving Guatemalan children while condemning China for human rights abuses, is more troubling. The move appears more about posturing against China in the international arena than a genuine concern for human rights. If anything, U.S. leaders will likely use ULFPA as ammunition in future trade talks.
All the while, Latin America’s impoverished continue to put food on our tables, whether paid or not. Most Americans believe Lincoln abolished slavery over 150 years ago. Unfortunately, our nationalistic culture of covering up domestic abuses enables the worst of human trafficking in our own nation.