Apple Imported Clothes from Xinjiang Firm Facing US Forced Labor Sanctions

Emma Graham-Harrison and Stephanie Kirchgaessner

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.

The details come a week after Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, told the US Congress he would not tolerate forced labour or modern-day slavery in the company’s supply chains.

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.

The sanctions bar the companies from buying US technology and other goods. The US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said they aimed to prevent US products being used in “the Chinese Communist party’s despicable offensive against defenceless Muslim minority populations”.

Esquel has denied allegations of abuse. “We absolutely have not, do not, and will never use forced labour anywhere in our company,” it said in a statement, pledging to appeal its inclusion on the list, and adding that an international audit in 2019 confirmed there was no modern-day slavery at the factory.

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.

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