A bipartisan group of senators on Friday introduced a bill that would stop U.S. companies from relying on Chinese slave labor.
Introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.), the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would require companies to ensure forced labor is not used in their supply chains. It would also direct federal departments to produce a strategy for cutting Chinese forced labor out of the U.S. supply chain. Up to one million members of the Uyghur ethnic minority have been placed in "re-education camps" in Western China, and many Uyghurs are trafficked across the country into forced labor programs.
At least one big tech company is likely to oppose the bill. Apple lobbied heavily against a previous iteration of the legislation, spending $90,000 on its lobbying efforts. In 2020, Apple stated that it "supported the goals" of the act but did not address allegations it had attempted to water down sections. Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, and other U.S. companies argued they already monitored their own supply chains for forced labor violations.
A May 2021 investigation found at least seven Apple suppliers who likely use forced labor. A spokesman for Apple rejected those claims, saying the company "found no evidence of forced labor anywhere we operate." Supporters of the bill say that admission shows U.S. companies are not adequately self-policing their supply chains.
"As the Chinese Communist Party is committing egregious human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, including genocide and crimes against humanity, there is no excuse to turn a blind eye," Rubio said in a press release. "We must instead do everything in our power to stop them." At least 27 other senators have signed on to the bill as cosponsors.
Apple has come under fire for its close ties with China. The company is battling to prevent users from downloading third-party apps on its devices, which experts worry helps China restrict internet access. And privacy researchers have warned that authoritarian governments could use Apple's new child pornography detection tool to hunt down political dissidents.