Apple Can’t Kick the iSlavery Habit in China

CommentaryThe history of Apple’s success is so inextricably linked to China that we should start thinking of it as a Chinese rather than an American company. Apple’s leading design engineers, marketing gurus, and what could be called addiction specialists (who impede Apple users from using other brands through hardware and software incompatibilities) rule from Cupertino, California. But Apple’s most important physical assets, worth billions of dollars, are its factories, machinery, specialist employees, and supply chain ecosystem. They are almost entirely in one totalitarian country: China. That physical plant doesn’t come cheaply. In 2016, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook reportedly made a secret agreement to invest $275 billion over five years to advance China’s workforce and economy. But he is under increasing political scrutiny over his choice to go all-in on China. By 2020, according to data published in a two-part Financial Times series, Apple manufactured almost 100 percent of its products in China. The company has 14,000 employees in the country and monitors another 1.5 million employees, mostly in its China supply chain. Apple not only produces in China, but reportedly participates in the repression of workers at its contract factories, in what some have called “iSlavery.” A recent example is Apple’s complicity in suppressing protests against COVID-19 lockdowns. According to the Financial Times, “Apple did not just fail to support protesters; as it emerged Chinese citizens were using AirDrop to share information, the company limited use of the file-sharing tool, in a move seen as acquiescing to Beijing’s demands.” The work in contract factories is grueling. Turnover can exceed 300 percent annually. That is, the work is so unpopular that all workers in the factory quit three times over, every year. Some students and villagers are reportedly bussed in and all but forced to work. Unrest erupted at a factory compound operated by Foxconn, which runs the world’s biggest Apple iPhone factory, in Zhengzhou in central China’s Henan Province, on Nov. 23, 2022. (Screenshot of Stephen McDonell’s Twitter account via The Epoch Times) After rising political pressures, labor costs, tariffs, and COVID-19 lockdowns, Apple is finally in the early stages of diversifying its supply chain to other countries, like India and Vietnam. It’s a small step in the right direction, but the process is slow, with only 5 percent of its production currently outside China. And India and Vietnam are themselves lackluster from a political perspective. India is a democracy but too close to Russia, a dictatorship that repeatedly threatens nuclear war against its neighbors—sometimes subtly, sometimes flagrantly. New Delhi has long relied on Moscow for weaponry, and refused to join the United States and European Union in sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine. Vietnam is an authoritarian communist country closely linked to Moscow and Beijing. It gets approximately 80 percent of its arms imports from Russia, and continues to be plagued by anti-American propaganda. Vietnam’s 78-year-old communist party chief is consolidating his own power with a self-serving anti-corruption drive that parallels that of China’s Xi Jinping a few years ago. There are plenty of democracies around the world that do the right thing when it comes to Russia and China. Yet Apple demonstrates its ethical failures by ignoring not only U.S. suppliers, but in part, jettisoning its long-term Taiwanese partners in favor of Chinese companies, both in China and India. Even after four years of diversification to India and Vietnam, into 2024, Apple will continue to produce approximately 90 percent of its products in China, according to the Financial Times. By 2030, that figure would be at most 80 percent. Given the persistent human rights abuse and militarism in communist China, it’s time to stop ignoring Apple’s empowerment of democracy’s most dangerous adversary. The United States and its allies should impose costs on Apple for enabling the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through technology transfers and hundreds of billions of dollars. Magnitsky sanctions could be upgraded with new laws that would make Tim Cook, the China supply-chain master, culpable for what should be considered international crimes in support of authoritarianism. Apple products from authoritarian and non-allied countries could, along with all other products from these countries, be subject to tougher controls. For example, all products from top-tier adversaries of democracy, like Russia and China, could be subject to tariffs of at least 35 percent. Products from nonaligned or authoritarian countries, like India and Vietnam, could be subject to a minimum 25 percent tariff. Zero-tariff regimes should be limited to those countries that are both democracies and allies of the United States, such as the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and the Philippines. If the United State

Apple Can’t Kick the iSlavery Habit in China

Commentary

The history of Apple’s success is so inextricably linked to China that we should start thinking of it as a Chinese rather than an American company.

Apple’s leading design engineers, marketing gurus, and what could be called addiction specialists (who impede Apple users from using other brands through hardware and software incompatibilities) rule from Cupertino, California.

But Apple’s most important physical assets, worth billions of dollars, are its factories, machinery, specialist employees, and supply chain ecosystem. They are almost entirely in one totalitarian country: China.

That physical plant doesn’t come cheaply. In 2016, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook reportedly made a secret agreement to invest $275 billion over five years to advance China’s workforce and economy.

But he is under increasing political scrutiny over his choice to go all-in on China.

By 2020, according to data published in a two-part Financial Times series, Apple manufactured almost 100 percent of its products in China. The company has 14,000 employees in the country and monitors another 1.5 million employees, mostly in its China supply chain.

Apple not only produces in China, but reportedly participates in the repression of workers at its contract factories, in what some have called “iSlavery.”

A recent example is Apple’s complicity in suppressing protests against COVID-19 lockdowns.

According to the Financial Times, “Apple did not just fail to support protesters; as it emerged Chinese citizens were using AirDrop to share information, the company limited use of the file-sharing tool, in a move seen as acquiescing to Beijing’s demands.”

The work in contract factories is grueling. Turnover can exceed 300 percent annually. That is, the work is so unpopular that all workers in the factory quit three times over, every year.

Some students and villagers are reportedly bussed in and all but forced to work.

Epoch Times Photo
Unrest erupted at a factory compound operated by Foxconn, which runs the world’s biggest Apple iPhone factory, in Zhengzhou in central China’s Henan Province, on Nov. 23, 2022. (Screenshot of Stephen McDonell’s Twitter account via The Epoch Times)

After rising political pressures, labor costs, tariffs, and COVID-19 lockdowns, Apple is finally in the early stages of diversifying its supply chain to other countries, like India and Vietnam.

It’s a small step in the right direction, but the process is slow, with only 5 percent of its production currently outside China.

And India and Vietnam are themselves lackluster from a political perspective.

India is a democracy but too close to Russia, a dictatorship that repeatedly threatens nuclear war against its neighbors—sometimes subtly, sometimes flagrantly. New Delhi has long relied on Moscow for weaponry, and refused to join the United States and European Union in sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Vietnam is an authoritarian communist country closely linked to Moscow and Beijing. It gets approximately 80 percent of its arms imports from Russia, and continues to be plagued by anti-American propaganda. Vietnam’s 78-year-old communist party chief is consolidating his own power with a self-serving anti-corruption drive that parallels that of China’s Xi Jinping a few years ago.

There are plenty of democracies around the world that do the right thing when it comes to Russia and China.

Yet Apple demonstrates its ethical failures by ignoring not only U.S. suppliers, but in part, jettisoning its long-term Taiwanese partners in favor of Chinese companies, both in China and India.

Even after four years of diversification to India and Vietnam, into 2024, Apple will continue to produce approximately 90 percent of its products in China, according to the Financial Times. By 2030, that figure would be at most 80 percent.

Given the persistent human rights abuse and militarism in communist China, it’s time to stop ignoring Apple’s empowerment of democracy’s most dangerous adversary. The United States and its allies should impose costs on Apple for enabling the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through technology transfers and hundreds of billions of dollars.

Magnitsky sanctions could be upgraded with new laws that would make Tim Cook, the China supply-chain master, culpable for what should be considered international crimes in support of authoritarianism.

Apple products from authoritarian and non-allied countries could, along with all other products from these countries, be subject to tougher controls.

For example, all products from top-tier adversaries of democracy, like Russia and China, could be subject to tariffs of at least 35 percent.

Products from nonaligned or authoritarian countries, like India and Vietnam, could be subject to a minimum 25 percent tariff.

Zero-tariff regimes should be limited to those countries that are both democracies and allies of the United States, such as the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and the Philippines.

If the United States fails to use its global market power and limits access to its market for adversaries and friends of adversaries, countries will have little financial incentive to prioritize the global promotion of democracy and human rights. Countries and powerful corporations, like Apple, will continue to depend on authoritarian regimes, which will use that dependency to promote their own interests at the expense of democracy.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).