Seven more companies in corporate tech giants’ supply chains have been linked to the Chinese state’s forced labour schemes conscripting Uyghurs.
Solidarity has reported on previous revelations about these schemes. This month, an investigation by tech journalists and human rights groups identified yet more businesses that received thousands of workers, manufacturing and assembling components for dozens of international brands. These include Apple, Amazon, IBM, Dell, Samsung, and Elon Musk’s Tesla.
Beijing claims that these are voluntary “poverty alleviation” programmes for the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other majority-Muslim indigenous peoples of Xinjiang province (the Chinese state’s name for colonised East Turkestan). However, those who decline to participate can be labelled “extremists” and then find themselves among the (at least) one million indigenous people subjected to mass internment over the last few years.
The programmes send coerced workers in batches to factories both within their homeland, and in provinces across China hundreds or thousands of miles from home. They are segregated from other workers and heavily surveilled: for instance, by facial recognition cameras at their dorms, minders when going out, and police assigned to oversee and discipline work groups. They are required to undergo “patriotic” political re-education.
The forced labour schemes are part of the industrial-scale persecution of the Uyghurs and other indigenous groups. They have been subject to Chinese colonialism since long before the 1949 revolution, and in recent years, this has escalated into a drive for forced assimilation amounting to genocide.
The Tech Transparency Project had already raised concerns about one of the companies last year: Lens Technology, a major supplier of iPhone cover glass as well as Amazon and Tesla. Apple claimed that it found no Uyghur workers transferred to Lens. But this new investigation found multiple Chinese state media reports directly contradicting Apple’s denials.
The report flagged that Apple still has not publicly disclosed all its hundreds of suppliers. One demand the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign UK (USC) raises is for new laws to force big capitalists to open the books: to audit their supply chains right back to source (not just in China, but worldwide) and publish everything. This information would help empower workers and rights groups to organise and act.
These are just the latest revelations illustrating that the struggle against the persecution of the Uyghurs is not a matter of picking a side in some battle between a “free” capitalist West and a “communist” China. Both Chinese and Western capitalists profit from the forced labour and by outfitting Xinjiang’s vast surveillance system.
In February, The Intercept exposed how US tech giant Oracle was equipping violently racist police and security forces from Xinjiang to the USA and Brazil to Dubai. Oracle is close to the US military-industrial complex, with senior executives allied to Donald Trump, and was set to benefit from the former President’s posturing, nationalistic attempt to force TikTok’s transfer from its Chinese owners.
So we cannot align with Western hawks, like Republican Senator Marco Rubio or Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith, who cynically use human rights concerns as a fig leaf for their rivalry with China. Instead, the USC wants to help build grassroots solidarity by connecting struggles around the world against racist exploitation and the state violence enabling and enforcing it.
Apple has already faced widespread pressure and protests after another of its suppliers O-Film was implicated last March in the forced labour schemes. This seems to have pushed Apple to dump O-Film. Solidarity campaigners must redouble our protests and direct action targeting Apple and other implicated brands. Most importantly, we need to organise with workers in those companies, who could exercise enormous leverage against their bosses’ outrageous practices.
• Ben Tausz is an organiser with the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign UK, writing here in a personal capacity.