iPhone workers given choice of forced labor or being sent to detention centers, says report

A fresh claim of iPhone workers being used as forced labor in China has appeared today, following an investigation by the Tech Transparency Project.

It suggests that iPhone glass supplier Lens Technology has been using Muslim minority Uighurs, who were given the stark choice of working in the company’s plant or being sent to detention centers which have been likened to concentration camps …

The Washington Post carries the report.

One of the oldest and most well-known iPhone suppliers has been accused of using forced Muslim labor in its factories, according to documents uncovered by a human rights group, adding new scrutiny to Apple’s human rights record in China.

The documents, discovered by the Tech Transparency Project and shared exclusively with The Washington Post, detail how thousands of Uighur workers from the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang were sent to work for Lens Technology […]

Lens Technology is one of at least five companies connected to Apple’s supply chain that have now been linked to alleged forced labor from the Xinjiang region, according to human rights groups. Lens Technology stands out from other Apple component suppliers because of its high-profile founder and long, well-documented history going back to the early days of the iPhone.

As with previous reports, the company is located in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is said to have placed more than a million Uighurs into detention centers, or forced them to work for companies in prison-like conditions.

The Chinese government claims that all the Uighur workers are there by choice, but a US academic says that is misleading at best.

“There’s really no way to give informed consent in Xinjiang any longer because the threat of extrajudicial detention is so extreme,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies Uighur migrants […]

 The Chinese government does not permit human rights groups to enter the country to interview laborers or observe conditions.

Apple denies the claims, stating that it has specific checks in place.

Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock said the company has confirmed that Lens Technology has not received any labor transfers of Uighur workers from Xinjiang. He said Apple earlier this year ensured that none of its other suppliers are using Uighur labor transferred from Xinjiang.

“Apple has zero tolerance for forced labor,” Rosenstock said. “Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of every supplier assessment we conduct, including surprise audits. These protections apply across the supply chain, regardless of a person’s job or location. Any violation of our policies has immediate consequences, including possible business termination. As always, our focus is on making sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and we will continue doing all we can to protect workers in our supply chain.”

Earlier this month, Apple took action against iPhone camera supplier O-Film over similar forced labor claims, though that report stated that the Cupertino company has not yet entirely removed the company from its supply chain.

A previous forced labor report implicated LCD screen maker BOE, and a garment company which was said to have made Apple Store staff t-shirts.

Many now believe it is impossible to use any suppliers based in Xinjiang without running a strong risk of being complicit in the use of forced labor.

Photo: Reuters

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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