A law is intended to prohibit Us companies from using forced laborers to produce their products. For many large corporations, this is a dilemma: they produce en masse in China and benefit from cheap labor. For example, Apple, Samsung and Sony are among the 83 global brands that are supposed to rely on forced laborers in the factories from their suppliers.
Apple is now relying on lobbying to weaken key provisions of the proposed law.
“Dilemma between economic and human rights interests”
The bill in question is called the Uyghur Forced Prevention Act and passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a clear majority of 406 votes to three. It is primarily aimed at the textile industry and other sectors in which low skills are expected from workers. For example, the bill also targets the production of sugar and the harvest of tomatoes: sugar from Xinjiang is said to have landed at Coca Cola, tomatoes from the region at Kraft Heinz.
According to the text of the law, American companies must ensure that no forced laborers from Chinese re-education camps are involved in their production chains. A provision of the draft requires public companies to certify to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that their products were not manufactured with forced labor from the Xinjiang region. If violations were found, the companies concerned would be prosecuted.
According to The Washington Post, two U.S. congressional staffers involved in talks with U.S. companies to implement the law report that Apple, in particular, faces a dilemma between economic and human rights interests. Because Apple is dependent on China for the production of software and hardware. And according to various reports, Uighur forced laborers are said to be involved in the production.
For example, O-Film Technology Co Ltd is one of the companies mentioned in a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) to use Uighur forced labour. O-Film Technology Co Ltd made cameras for Apple and is said to have received several hundred Uighur workers in 2017 as part of a state-sponsored program, according to local Chinese media. O-Film not only supplies Apple, but also, directly or indirectly, other US companies such as Dell, HP, Amazon and General Motors.
Apple was lobbying - the content has not been confirmed
As the two congressional staffers told The Washington Post, Apple is just one of many companies that oppose the bill. Apple, however, defended itself against all the allegations. He said the company was “committed to ensuring that everyone in our production chain is treated with dignity and respect.” Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock said Apple abhors forced labor and supports the goals of the Uyghur Forced Prevention Act. “We share the committee’s goal of elaborating forced labor and strengthening U.S. law, and we will continue to work with them to achieve this,” he said.
Apple products include thousands of components manufactured by suppliers around the world. The company has a code of conduct for suppliers and claims to have evaluated a total of 1,142 suppliers in 49 countries in 2019 to ensure that working conditions are met. Apple publishes an annual progress report documenting the results. However, the technology company has been accused of several alleged abuses of work for years. For example, the Tech Transparency Project uncovered that Apple imported cotton T-shirts from a company in Xinjiang that Congress has imposed sanctions on for allegedly using forced labor. Apple said at the time that it does not currently import T-shirts from the region.
A lobbying report revealed by The Information reveals that Apple’s lobbying firm is indeed lobbying for the Uyghur Forced Prevention Act. However, the form did not indicate whether Apple was for or against the bill or whether it wanted to change it in any way. Lobbying disclosure forms do not require this information. Fierce referred the Washington Post to Apple’s PR department.
Law to be weakened
However, Apple – and many other US corporations – have enough reasons to lobby in their interests against the proposed law and thus against respect for human rights. From the moment the law enters into force, the companies concerned would have to ensure that there are no human rights violations in the production of their products. Otherwise, they could be held responsible. This means that the law goes much further than the previous rules of the game allow in the United States: the import of goods into the USA, the production of which violates human rights, is not permitted. However, the law is rarely enforced. It is difficult to prove that US companies were aware of the use of forced labour.
“What Apple would like to do is sit around and discuss without any consequences,” Cathy Feingold, director of the largest U.S. labor union, told The Washington Post. ‘They’re shocked because it might be the first time they’ve been forced to enforce something.’
There are, of course, other companies that would be affected by the law. For example, “Coca-Cola”, “Patagonia” and “Costco”. These three companies even want their names removed from the bill altogether. However, they did not want to comment to The Washington Post.
Now the companies are running out of time. After passing the House of Representatives, they want to use the remaining time to weaken the bill once again – before the U.S. Senate decides whether to approve the bill.