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Apple’s supplier of iPhone screens accused of using Muslims as forced labour in China

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A major supplier of consumer electronics components to companies like Apple, Amazon, and Tesla has been accused of using Uighurs as forced labour workers from the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang, China, according to a report from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) which was first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday.

The report says that Lens Technology, a gadget glass supplier to Apple, and other companies has used thousands of such workers.

 

According to the report, such forced labour is part of the Chinese government’s ongoing detention and campaign against the Uighur minority.

TTP’s investigation cites media reports from Global Times of China and government records, which allegedly show Lens Technology was sent thousands of workers from Xinjiang to work in its factories in the Hunan province as part of a “poverty alleviation” program carried out by the Xinjiang–Suzhou Chamber of Commerce. TTP also cites an online video titled “Lens Tech Uyghurs celebrating National Day,” which shows hundreds of workers sitting on the ground outside a building with banners revealing the workers’ Xinjiang origin and their employment at Lens Technology.

Many of these workers previously lived in indoctrination camps and are often forced to renounce Islam and learn Mandarin before they are transported to various factories throughout China, according to extensive reporting on the crisis.

Apple has denied any role in or connection to China’s forced labor practices, saying it regularly investigates its suppliers as part of its auditing process and has seen no evidence that Lens Technology has used such workers on Apple production lines.

“Apple has zero tolerance for forced labor. Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of every supplier assessment we conduct, including surprise audits,” Apple spokesperson Josh Rosenstock said in a statement. “Earlier this year we confirmed that none of our suppliers have Uighur workers from ‘pairing programs’ from Xinjiang on any Apple production lines.”

The TTP report is consistent with that claim, as it only purports to show Xinjiang workers at Lens rather than working specifically on Apple components. Still, it’s an unsettling reminder of the limits of supply chain auditing efforts and how little is publicly known about many prominent tech suppliers, especially as the Chinese government resists efforts from outside independent agencies and human rights groups to investigate working conditions and labor practices in the country.