Campaign for Accountability Files Customs and Border Protection Complaint over Apple’s Use of Forced Labor
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 27, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA) filed a complaint with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over Apple’s continued use of forced labor in products it ships to and sells in the United States. Over the past year, CfA’s Tech Transparency Project (TTP) has played a key role in demonstrating the extent to which Apple’s supply chain is tainted by forced Uyghur labor in China. Under the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. § 1307), U.S. law prohibits “the importation of merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced or indentured labor.” As Customs and Border Protection (CBP) states, “Such merchandise is subject to exclusion and/or seizure, and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer(s).”
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “We believe there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Apple, the world’s most valuable company, is in violation of the Tariff Act, and that CBP must enforce the law. By issuing a Withhold Release Order (WRO) and preventing the importation of Apple products linked to forced labor, the CBP has the power to compel Apple into action beyond its blanket, face-saving denials.”
The seizure of Apple imports credibly tied to forced labor would be consistent with Customs’ other recent enforcement actions on this issue. There are currently 50 active Withhold Release Orders, and 696 shipments have been detained between October 1, 2020, and June 25, 2021, according to the latest agency’s latest forced labor statistics. Many of these involve the use of forced Uyghur labor in China’s textile, apparel, and agricultural sectors, and there is now compelling evidence that Apple iPhones, computers, and other products should be added to that list.
In August 2020, TTP used shipping records and Chinese documentation to show that Apple sourced retail employee uniforms from a Hong Kong-based company, Esquel Group, that’s been implicated in forced labor in Xinjiang. In a statement to The Guardian, Apple acknowledged sourcing cotton from Esquel but denied it came from Xinjiang.
In January 2021, TTP uncovered documents demonstrating the use of forced labor by Lens Technology, a major Apple supplier that produces touch screen glass for the iPhone. In 2018, for example, the city of Turpan, Xinjiang planned to send 1,000 minority laborers to work at Lens Tech facilities in Hunan Province, about 2,000 miles away. Responding to the Washington Post’s coverage of the TTP report, Apple said Lens Tech had received no Uyghur labor transfers from Xinjiang, despite video evidence unearthed by TTP of Uyghur Lens Tech workers.
TTP also worked closely with The Information on its May 2021 exposé that identified a total of seven Apple suppliers linked to forced labor in Xinjiang, including Avary Holdings. Apple nevertheless told The Information that “despite the restrictions of Covid-19, we undertook further investigations and found no evidence of forced labor anywhere we operate.”
Another company, O-Film Group, was identified by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in March 2020 as an Apple supplier using Uyghur laborers transferred from Xinjiang. TTP uncovered additional evidence, published in the January report on Lens Tech, further quantifying these transfers. Reports surfaced in March 2021 that Apple had quietly cut ties with O-Film as a result. But Apple has never publicly acknowledged the move or its ties to forced labor.
This June, TTP revealed that Apple’s green energy partner, Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology, has probable links to Xinjiang forced labor transfers. Goldwind’s founder and chairman also enthusiastically participated in cultural-political programs closely linked to the intense surveillance and repression of Uyghurs in their own homes. It appears Apple has yet to address these ties to its investors or the public.
Apple’s repeated claims to have “thoroughly investigated” the forced labor issue are questionable, given the evidence that such factory inspections appear to be much more challenging, if not impossible, in China. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported in April that the Chinese government raided and shut down the China-based partner of an Apple labor consultant known for investigating forced labor.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Apple seems unwilling to conduct basic due diligence research on its partners in China that have been credibly linked to forced labor. We hope that Customs and Border Protection will use its authority to spur Apple to take action and provide evidence that these audits have been properly and sufficiently conducted.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.