Lens Technology is one of at least five companies affiliated with Apple’s supply chain that have now been linked to alleged forced labor from the Xinjiang region, according to human rights groups. Lens Technology stands out from other Apple component vendors because of its high-profile founder and long, well-documented history dating back to the early days of the iPhone.
“Our research shows that Apple’s use of forced labor in the supply chain goes far beyond what the company has acknowledged,”
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock said the company had confirmed that Lens Technology had not received any transfers of Uighur workers from Xinjiang. He said that earlier this year, Apple made sure that none of its other suppliers use Uighur labor transferred from Xinjiang.
“Apple has no tolerance for forced labor,” Rosenstock said. “Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of any supplier assessment we conduct, including surprise audits. These protections apply throughout the supply chain, regardless of a person’s job or location. Any violation of our policies has immediate consequences, including possible termination of business. As always, we focus on ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect workers in our supply chain. ”
Lens Technology did not respond to requests for comment.
In response to faxed questions from The Post, the Beijing Foreign Ministry called forced labor in China “non-existent” and accused people of “ulterior motives” for doing so. It said a number of companies had hired auditors to conduct investigations, which “confirmed the non-existence of” forced labor. It did not name the companies.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. Amazon spokeswoman Samantha Kruse declined to comment. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Apple products include thousands of components manufactured by suppliers worldwide. While some vendors are small or work for Apple through intermediaries, Apple has a much closer relationship with its major vendors such as Lens. The company has a supplier code and says that they assessed 1142 suppliers in 49 countries in 2019, and ensured that good working conditions are maintained. Rosenstock said that Lens was one of the revised suppliers. Apple publishes an annual progress report documenting the results.
Apple has continued to face criticism for its work practices in the past, especially in China. It has also recently spread to India, where Apple has built up its production base. Thousands of workers gathered outside Apple’s supplier Wistron in South India earlier this month to protest working conditions. Rosenstock said Wistron has been put to the test.
“Apple claims to be taking extraordinary measures to monitor the supply chain for such issues, but the evidence we found was publicly available on the Internet,” said Paul from the Tech Transparency Project.
Xinjiang, far in western China bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries, is facing a brutal attack by the Chinese government, which has placed more than a million Muslims in concentration camps or forced them to work in factories that make everything. from cotton to soda to electronics.
Uighur workers transferred from Xinjiang to other regions of China are often, if not always, forced or forced, according to human rights groups and academics who have conducted interviews with people who have fled the system. The Chinese government does not allow human rights groups to enter the country to interview workers or monitor conditions. The documents discovered by the Tech Transparency Project do not describe the working conditions in Lens Tech’s factories.
“There is really no way to give informed consent in Xinjiang anymore because the threat of out-of-court detention is so extreme,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies Uighur migrants. Byler said the Chinese government’s use of forced labor in the Xinjiang region has long been established, but has escalated since 2017, when the latest action against Uighurs began.
Apple, among other companies, has sent lobbyists to Capitol Hill in an attempt to water down legislation that would hold U.S. companies responsible for using forced labor from the region. Paul said the alleged use of forced labor in Apple’s supply chain “may explain why the company is lobbying a bill now before Congress that would sanction companies for their involvement in human rights abuses in China.” Rosenstock said it was “false to suggest we ‘sent lobbyists’ to Capitol Hill.”
Zhou Qunfei, founder and CEO of Lens Technology, stepped forward in 2015, when the company she founded from scratch became public. She told the New York Times at the time that her big break came in 2003, when Motorola executives called her out of the blue and gave her a chance to deliver glass displays for the upcoming Razr V3. When the iPhone was launched in 2007, Lens Technology won the contract to supply glass screen coatings.
It was a remarkable increase for a young woman who came from a poor village and started as a factory worker herself. Zhou used his modest savings to build a lens supply business and became one of the world’s few female, self-made billionaires. Forbes estimates Zhou’s net worth at $ 15.2 billion, making her the world’s richest self-made woman and just scaring her for the property of Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, according to Forbes.
With its share more than doubled in the past year, Lens Technology is now worth more than $ 130 billion. It has around 100,000 workers in its 16-company corporate family, and it has several factories that produce glass for the consumer electronics industry, according to its public archives.
The Chinese government has helped facilitate the transfer of workers from Xinjiang to work in electronics factories across China. The government has invoiced the transfers as part of an effort to combat poverty led by the country’s central management.
The transfers are sometimes organized by regional chambers of commerce, which act as quasi-state agencies, and labor recruitment companies that act as intermediaries and ensure that workers are sent to specific factories.
Some Uighur workers have told human rights groups that they were given the choice of working in a remote factory or being sent to a detention center. In some cases, employees have said that when they “accept” the job, they live in heavily guarded campuses and are rarely allowed to go. In the evenings, when their shifts end, the Uighur workers say they are forced to take lessons in communist propaganda. Whether the Uighurs are paid, and exactly how much, is unclear.
Some of these job transfers sent workers to Lens Technology campuses in Hunan, according to an August 2019 article in the Global Times of China.
The article says that the transfer was arranged by the Xinjiang-Suzhou Chamber of Commerce and was painted as a positive attempt to offer jobs to people who are unemployed. But the text of the article uses language that human rights groups say reveals that workers may not go to the polls. The Chamber of Commerce emphasized the use of its “paramilitary” style to control workers to keep them “organized, disciplined, regulated,” according to the article.
Xinjiang-Suzhou Chamber of Commerce article refers to “management cadres” that accompany Uighur workers for “logistics support.” According to Byler, “cadres” is often a bureaucratic term for government officials who monitor the political education of Uighur workers and enforce bans on religious practices. “The cadres have the authority to send people back to Xinjiang, to place them in camps,” Byler said.
China’s analysts say the Xinjiang-Suzhou Chamber of Commerce has arranged labor transfers in the past, and its executives have come up with the idea of turning the transfers into a business.
In February, Xinjiang Uighur workers at a Lens Technology factory were among the first passengers to fly on a chartered flight in China after the pandemic shut down civil aviation, according to an article highlighted in the Tech Transparency Project report. The China Southern Arlines flight from Hotan to Hunan was covered by a Chinese news agency focusing on the aviation industry.
“Even though they are young, most have two years of experience,” the article says. “In the new year, I will continue to work hard, learn more skills, earn more money, so that my family can live a good life out of poverty and leave my parents safe,” one of the workers was quoted as saying. in the article. Human rights workers say that news articles like these are the result of coordinated government propaganda.
A photograph of the Uighur workers on the plane, wearing masks, shows them holding the “thumbs up” sign, along with the flight crew, who all appear to be Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in the country.
Job transfers to lens technology go back at least two years, according to the recently uncovered documents. An announcement from the Turpan Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, posted at a Chinese job recruitment site in 2018, announced the planned transfer of 1,000 “surplus jobs in urban and rural work” to Lens Technology. The notice instructs local towns and villages to announce their efforts to obtain voluntary registrations. To get a job, applicants must pass a “political review,” according to the admission, conducted by local police and approved by the National Security Brigade.
As part of the review, the announcement states, information about Uighur workers will then be sent to the Integrated Joint Operations Platform. According to Human Rights Watch, the Integrated Joint Operations Platform is a database run by the Chinese government that stores surveillance data and helps authorities decide whether to send Uighurs to detention facilities. Byler said it was the first time he had seen direct evidence that the integrated joint operating platform had been used in China’s “forced labor scheme,” as he called it.
In another alleged propaganda video, which was posted online in 2019, Uighur workers are seen at a National Day celebration in front of a red banner that reads “All workers sent by Kashgar region Human Resources and Social Security Bureau to Lens Tech: Welcome National Day – Sing red songs. Be grateful for the party. ”Kashgar is a city in the Xinjiang region.
Much of the evidence that describes which factories are alleged to be forced labor from Xinjiang comes from websites that are publicly available in China, but which can be difficult to find. China has begun implementing measures to restrict access to government information outside the country, human rights groups say.
In state media and other official channels, the Chinese government has announced the transfer of workers from Xinjiang to factories outside the region, often specifying the specific factories where the workers are destined to work. Researchers say that articles are sometimes taken down before they are discovered by human rights groups. In recent years, since human rights groups have used the posts as evidence, the government has published less material, researchers said.
A March report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which involved four Apple suppliers in alleged forced labor transfers, relied in part on publicly available documents.
The report reported detailed work transfers to factories owned by O-Film, Hubei Yihong Precision Manufacturing and Highbroad Advanced Material, all manufacturers affiliated with Apple’s supply chain. O-Film appears on Apple’s vendor list. Hubei is a subsidiary of Dongguan Yidong Electronic, which listed Apple as a customer on the site. Highbroad’s annual report shows Apple’s supplier BOE Technology Group as its largest customer. The Australian report also claimed a transfer of Uighur workers to Foxconn’s “iPhone city”, the largest assembly plant for iPhones. Rosenstock said Hubei and Highbroad have no connection to Apple’s supply chain.
In an earlier report, the Tech Transparency Project claimed that the cotton shirts used by Apple Store employees were also taken from forced labor in Xinjiang. Rosenstock has said that Apple does not receive shirts from Xinjiang, but will not say if the company has ever done so before.
Lily Kuo contributed to this article.