US Congress is currently deliberating over a bill aimed at banning the import of products from the Chinese province of Xinjiang, where Muslim Uyghurs are allegedly subjected to forced labour. Products are exempt from the ban if the manufacturer and importer can prove that no forced labour was involved.
We've argued before that Apple, whose supply chains are involved in this region and which was one of the 83 "well-known global brands" named in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's report Uyghurs For Sale, urgently needs to renounce forced labour. Yet it is one of the firms currently lobbying against provisions in this bill - while vehemently denying that it wishes to water down the legislation.
Apple insists that it believes the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) should become law. Yet, along with Nike and Coca-Cola, the company has spoken out against aspects of the UFLPA, and its lobbyists have proposed numerous changes, documented exhaustively by The New York Times.
Apple is seeking an extension of the deadlines for compliance, which involves companies proving their supply chains are "clean". It has also proposed that certain information related to the supply chain be presented to Congress rather than made accessible to the public, and for it to be necessary that Chinese entities are "designated by the United States government" as being involved in the surveillance or detention of minority groups in Xinjiang.
Aside from denying that it is attempting to water down the law, Apple claims it has the strictest supply-chain rules in the industry, and that it regularly monitors compliance with them.
"Looking for the presence of forced labour is part of every supplier assessment we conduct and any violations of our policies carry immediate consequences, including business termination," said the company in a statement. "Earlier this year, we conducted a detailed investigation with our suppliers in China and found no evidence of forced labour on Apple production lines and we are continuing to monitor this closely."
The US House of Representatives already passed the law in September with a large majority of 406 to 3 votes, and it's believed that the bill will pass the Senate in due course. The outgoing Trump administration may have time to enact the law, or it may have to wait until the new one under President Biden from the end of January.
Nike and Coca-Cola and their lobbyists have also raised objections to the bill in its current form; the common concern of the large companies is that strict regulation could damage supply chains deeply embedded in China. Yet, like Apple, the two firms have rushed to insist that they are not against the legislation in spirit: Coca-Cola emphasises that it will take strict action against forced labour in its supply chain, while Nike characterises its contributions as "constructive discussions" rather than lobbying against the UFLPA.
This article originally appeared on Macwelt. Translation and additional reporting by David Price.