A report published Tuesday by the website the Information accused Apple of partnering with Chinese manufacturers that openly, and illegally, reject individuals from jobs based on race and ethnic background – the same ethnic backgrounds of people they stand accused of exploiting as slaves.
Apple conducts a significant percentage of the manufacturing of its products in China through partnerships with local suppliers. For years, evidence has mounted that these suppliers participate in Chinese Communist Party programs to enslave people belonging to the country’s ethnic minorities, particularly the Uyghur people. An extensive 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) called “Uyghurs for Sale” accused 83 international companies, including Apple, of buying Uyghur slaves online through government programs, shipped out of their native Xinjiang province to engage in forced labor nationwide.
The company suppliers reportedly purchased the slaves through online advertisements featuring racist cartoons of the people for sale.
Within Xinjiang, China has built over 1,200 concentration camps since 2017 to house Uyghur people. American government estimates suggest as many as 3 million people have passed through those camps. In addition to the Uyghur majority, the camps also imprison other members of Muslim ethnic minorities, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people. Survivors of the camps list slavery among other human rights atrocities they endured, including systematic gang rape, electric torture, forced sterilization, and testing for live organ harvesting.
The U.S. government, under both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, has condemned China’s treatment of Uyghur people as a genocide.
China denies all allegations of genocide, insisting instead that the concentration camps are “vocational training centers” and its sale of Uyghur slaves is part of a “facilitation of employment” program.
“The Information found more than 100 online ads for production line jobs containing discriminatory language across more than 30 companies in Apple’s supply chain, including ads that discouraged applications from those over 40 or people with tattoos,” the outlet reported on Tuesday. “The companies include assemblers of iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and AirPods, as well as manufacturers of printed circuit boards, touch modules, camera lenses, batteries, data cables, cover glass and packaging.”
The most offensives advertisements, however, reportedly “explicitly say members of marginalized Chinese minority groups can’t apply, even though such discrimination is illegal under Chinese law and a violation of Apple’s rules for its suppliers.”
The outlet reached out to some of the individuals posting the advertisements, requesting an explanation.
“Is your company willing to accept people who love to fight, drink and cause trouble?” on recruiter replied.
The list of minorities rejected in the ads includes “Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hui, Yi,” Tibetans, and others. The Information noted that the advertisements clearly identified Apple as the partner for which the work advertised was to be done for, meaning Apple could not reasonably contend it was not involved.
The Information’s report on Tuesday follows an exposé showing several of the same companies are actively using Uyghurs as slaves, suggesting the companies are simply unwilling to pay minorities to work, rather than distrusting of their work quality generally.
The heads of Congress’s bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) issued a statement to the press on Tuesday urging Apple CEO Tim Cook to “transparently engage with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure that Apple’s supply chains are free of forced labor and to divest from Chinese suppliers who take part in the Chinese government’s ‘labor transfer’ programs.”
“The mounting evidence is beyond troubling. Despite persistent assurances from Apple that their supply chains were free of forced labor, we now have evidence that it is tainted,” Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative James P. McGovern (D-MA), who chair the committee, said in a statement. “We urge Apple CEO Tim Cook to divest from Chinese suppliers in Xinjiang who are implicated in forced labor in China. We also ask Apple to engage with U.S. Customs and Border Protection on their China supply chains to ensure that no Apple import is made with forced labor.”
Apple and its suppliers have faced similar accusations for years. In March 2019, Inkstone News, a Hong Kong outlet, accused Apple supplier Foxconn of openly discriminating against ethnic minorities in job postings, a nearly identical accusation to the one published by The Information this week. The latter listed Foxconn as among the guilty suppliers in 2021.
“The exclusion of ethnic minority job seekers was openly stated by a recruiting agency for Foxconn, Apple’s largest supplier, in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou,” Inkstone reported in 2019. “In response to an inquiry from Inkstone, Foxconn said on Friday that it had begun an investigation into the agency and vowed to help end discriminatory hiring.”
The Chinese government, which controls all companies in the country through the Communist Party, initially stood accused only of enslaving Uyghur people in Xinjiang concentration camps. The ASPI report “Uyghurs for Sale” was the first major research study finding the shipment of thousands of Uyghur people nationwide – meaning companies could not assume that their products were not being made by slaves simply because the factories in question were not located in Xinjiang. Similar racist advertisements to the ones published in Uyghurs for Sale have persisted on the Chinese government-controlled internet. In April, Sky News found “dozens of posting advertising Uighur labour, in batches of 50 to 100 workers,” on the Chinese website Baidu. Baidu is China’s largest search engine; the Communist Party forbids Chinese citizens from using foreign search engines like Google.