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Is Apple Using Forced Labor to Make Its Products? Time Will Tell

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Dec. 23 2021, Published 4:05 p.m. ET

Apple shareholders want to make sure that the company doesn’t use forced labor to produce its iPhones, iPads, iMacs, and other products. Is Apple using forced labor?

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An investigation in May by The Information found that seven of Apple’s suppliers were linked to forced labor of a Muslim minority group in the Xinjiang region of China. Uyghurs are a mainly Muslim Turkic ethnic group that predominately live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regions of Northwest China.

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Only one of the seven Apple suppliers is located in Xinjiang, while the other companies ship Uyghur workers to their locations throughout China, The Information reports.

In December 2020, The Washington Post revealed information from the Tech Transparency Project that detailed how Chinese company Lens Technology, which makes the glass for iPhones, used Uyghur workers for forced labor.

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“Our research shows that Apple’s use of forced labor in its supply chain goes far beyond what the company has acknowledged,” Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, told The Washington Post.

Apple says that it has zero tolerance for forced labor.

A spokesperson for Apple told The Washington Post that the company has “zero tolerance for forced labor.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that forced labor in the country was “nonexistent,” The Washington Post reports.

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Several months after the information came out, The Wall Street Journal reported that Lens Technology was phasing out the use of Uyghur factory workers who were transferred from Xinjiang through a state-backed labor program.

A watchdog group filed a complaint against Apple.

In September, the non-profit watchdog group Campaign for Accountability filed a formal complaint against Apple with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The group claims that Apple is in violation of the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibits “the importation of merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced or indentured labor.”

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Source: President Joe Biden Twiter

Shareholders want to know what Apple is doing to prevent forced labor.

After reports of forced labor in China came out, a group of Apple shareholders asked the company’s board to put together a report on what it's doing to keep forced labor out of its supply chain.

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Apple officials attempted to block the proposal, but the SEC rejected the move on Dec. 22 and said that “it does not appear that the essential objectives of the proposal have been implemented,” reports Reuters.

Apple will vote on the forced labor proposal at its annual shareholder meeting.

The SEC’s denial means that Apple officials will have to vote on the proposal at its 2022 annual shareholder meeting unless they can make a deal with shareholders before that.

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“Apple says the right things about protecting human rights, but its actions contradict its words,” said Vicky Wyatt, the campaign director for SumOfUS, which supports the shareholder proposal.

“Faced with mounting evidence of forced labor in its supply chain, the company refuses to investigate the threat. Human lives are at stake here -- and so is the reputation of the Apple brand and the value of its investors’ shares. Apple's customers care about human rights, and the question is whether Apple is really serious about protecting them," she said.

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