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iPhone supply chain partner accused of accepting forced labor

Workers are deciding between forced labor or detention centers.

What you need to know

  • Lens Technology is being accused of accepting forced labor.
  • The company is a notable supply chain partner of Apple.

Reported by The Washington Post, Lens Technology has been accused of forced labor based on documents discovered by the Tech Transparency Project, a human rights group. The company supplies companies like Apple, Tesla, and Amazon with parts for their devices.

Lens Technology is one of at least five companies connected to 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 suppliers because of its high-profile founder and long, well-documented history going back to the early days of the iPhone.

The human rights group claims that Lens Technology has been using forced labor from Uighur workers that have been transferred from Xinjiang, a claim that Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock disputes.

“Apple has zero tolerance for forced labor,” Rosenstock said. “Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of every supplier assessment we conduct, including surprise audits. These protections apply across the supply chain, regardless of a person’s job or location. Any violation of our policies has immediate consequences, including possible business termination. As always, our focus is on making sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and we will continue doing all we can to protect workers in our supply chain.”

Lens Technology is a notable supplier of Apple, as the company won the contract to supply the glass screen covering for the original iPhone.

Zhou Qunfei, Lens Technology’s founder and CEO, rose to prominence in 2015, when the company she founded from the ground up went 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 offered her a chance to supply glass screens for the upcoming Razr V3. When the iPhone launched in 2007, Lens Technology won the contract to supply the glass screen covering.

According to human rights groups, Uighur workers are being given the choice of working at companies like Lens Technology or being sent to a detention center.

Labor transfers to Lens Technology go back at least two years, according to the recently uncovered documents. A notice from the Turpan Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, posted on a Chinese job recruitment site in 2018, announced the planned transfer of 1,000 “surplus urban and rural labor” to Lens Technology. The notice instructs local towns and villages to publicize the effort in order to get voluntary sign-ups. To get a job, applicants must pass a “political review,” according to the posting, carried out by local police and approved by the National Security Brigade.

Apple has been facing increasing accusations of forced labor existing in its supply chain. Earlier this month, a riot broke out at one of its supply chain partners over unpaid wages. The company, according to Apple, has now been placed on probation.

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