On June 8, the chairmen of a leading U.S. congressional body called on Apple CEO Tim Cook to dismiss Chinese suppliers involved in forced labor involving Uyghur Muslims.
The call comes after recent investigations found that several Apple suppliers had links to alleged forced labor of Uyghurs in the far western region of Xinjiang. Apple maintained that no evidence of forced labor was found in its supply chains in China or elsewhere.
“The growing evidence is troubling,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) And Representative James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Chairman and co-chair of the dual congressional executive committee on China, in a statement. “Despite Apple’s persistent assurance that its supply chains are free from forced labor, we now have evidence that it is infected.”
Lawmakers have asked Cook to work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to ensure the company’s supply chain in China is free from forced labor.
“There must be a genuine, tough and global response to the atrocities committed in Xinjiang,” the chairmen said.
The Chinese regime is waging a broad campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Residents are subject to detention, forced labor, torture and forced sterilization, in a crackdown declared a genocide by the US government.
A report last year found that in 2018, at least 570,000 Uyghurs were forced to pick cotton in the region.
CBP banned all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang and banned goods from various Chinese manufacturers due to concerns about forced labor.
Meanwhile, pressure on Western fashion brands to sell cotton from Xinjiang has increased – the region is estimated to produce 20 percent of the world’s cotton.
The solar panel industry has also been scrutinized after recent reports that Chinese solar power companies were linked to forced labor. Nearly half of the world’s silicone stock, the main raw material used to make solar panels, is manufactured in Xinjiang.
In January, dual senators introduced the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would restrict imports of goods from Xinjiang until Chinese and U.S. businesses can prove to CBP that there is no forced labor in their supply chains.
Earlier this month, Merkley and McGovern called on NBA players to trade with Chinese sportswear companies linked to forced labor.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.