Tim CookSource: Apple

What you need to know

  • A new report claims Apple Store uniforms might be the result of forced labor.
  • The company responsible for the uniforms has links to China's western Xinjiang region.
  • Apple says its suppliers don't "currently" source cotton from the region.

A new report by The Guardian suggests that Apple Store uniforms may come from a company that might be using forced labor.

The report cites multiple shipping documents that show a company with a history of using forced labor shipping shirts to Apple Stores, with that company having now had sanctions imposed.

Apple has imported clothes – probably uniforms for staff in stores – from a company facing US sanctions over forced labour at a subsidiary firm in China's western Xinjiang region, shipping records show.

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An Apple spokesman said the company had confirmed none of its suppliers currently source cotton from Xinjiang, but declined to comment on whether they had done so in the past.

The US government in July imposed sanctions on Changji Esquel Textile, a unit of the Hong Kong garment group Esquel, along with 10 other Chinese companies for alleged human rights violations in the Xinjiang region, including forced labour.

This comes just a week after CEO Tim Cook told a US Congress hearing that he wouldn't tolerate the use of forced labor by any of his suppliers. While Apple does now say that it doesn't use this particular supplier now, it's possible it did in the past – as The Guardian notes, Apple wouldn't comment on that fact.

It seems beyond any doubt that Apple did have dealings with Changji Esquel Textile, however. Documents show shirts being delivered and the company's own website mentioned Apple as a "major customer".

A month before the sanctions were announced, Esquel had sent a shipment of women's cotton and elastane knit shirts to "Apple Retail stores" in California, the database run by the global shipping information provider Panjiva showed. Those records were identified by the Tech Transparency Project.

Until recently, Esquel's website listed Apple as a "major customer", according to a report published in March by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) into Chinese companies using forced labour in Xinjiang to supply global brands.

This isn't the first time that Apple has seen its suppliers accused of such things and, unfortunately, it's unlikely to be the last.

You can read the full piece over at The Guardian and you absolutely should.