2021-06-08 21:06:50 Apple Worked With Company Tied To Xinjiang
Apple Worked With Company Tied To Xinjiang
Apple and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway have done business with a Chinese wind energy conglomerate linked to contentious government and labor programs in Xinjiang, where the US and other countries claim China is committing genocide against Muslim minorities.
According to new research from the Tech Transparency Project, Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology, China’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, has at least once entered talks to receive “labor exports” from the Hotan prefecture in Xinjiang to a facility hundreds of miles away. According to an archived local government media report uncovered by the Tech Transparency Project, Hotan officials traveled to a Goldwind plant to “coordinate” the labor exports as part of an effort to strengthen workers’ “organizational and disciplinary education.”
In Xinjiang, “labor transfer” programs are closely linked to forced labor for Muslim minorities. “Forced labor has now become an integral part of the government’s efforts to ‘reeducate’ Muslim minorities,” the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in 2019, as part of its extensive research on the subject.
Goldwind, one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers, has close ties to the ruling Communist Party, as do many successful Chinese businesses. However, its ties to Xinjiang are unusual. The CEO of the company has made explicit statements in support of a government program that has placed Communist Party cadres in Muslim families’ homes in Xinjiang. In December, Goldwind signed an agreement with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a paramilitary group sanctioned by the US last year for its involvement in human rights violations in the region.
It is unclear whether the 2016 “labor export” discussions ever materialized, but the plans raise “troubling questions about whether the wind turbine company has participated in the exploitation of Uyghurs in its home base of Xinjiang,” according to a report released today by the Tech Transparency Project.
In response to questions for this article, Goldwind stated that “the information and allegations from the Tech Transparency Project are categorically false and have no basis in fact,” and that the company has never engaged in the forced export of labor from any region of China and does not use any form of forced labor.
Goldwind also stated that the wind turbines it sells in North America and other regions are manufactured and assembled on China’s east coast, not in Xinjiang.
The Chinese government is conducting a surveillance, imprisonment, and forced labor campaign against the millions of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, including Uyghurs, Kazaks, and others. The program has drawn harsh criticism from UN officials and governments around the world, including the United States, the European Union, and Canada.
Apple invested in four wind power projects in 2016 with Beijing Tianrun New Energy Investment, a Goldwind subsidiary that operates wind farms in China. Tianrun granted Apple a 30% stake in each project. None of the wind power projects are in Xinjiang. Apple stated that the projects were completed in 2017 and that Goldwind has not supplied them since.
The investment was part of Apple’s “commitment to reducing carbon emissions from its manufacturing,” said Lisa Jackson, vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives at the time, adding that it would allow Apple to send clean energy to its Chinese suppliers.
In response to questions about this article, Apple stated, “Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of every assessment we conduct in every country where we do business.” “We closely monitor this, and over the past year, despite the COVID-19 restrictions, we conducted additional investigations and found no evidence of forced labor anywhere in our supply chain.”
Berkshire Hathaway Energy provided financing to Goldwind’s Chicago-based subsidiary in October 2018 for the Rattlesnake Wind Project, a $250 million wind farm in McCulloch County, Texas. In November 2020, Goldwind sold the project, which it described as its largest in the United States.
Berkshire Hathaway did not respond to requests for comment by the time this article was published.
The links between Goldwind and Xinjiang raise even more difficult questions for Western companies doing business in China’s rapidly growing alternative energy sector. According to BuzzFeed News, solar power is heavily reliant on key components used in solar panels, the majority of which are manufactured in Xinjiang.
According to BloombergNEF data, Goldwind controls 21% of the country’s wind energy market. Its shareholders include China Three Gorges Corporation, a state-owned power company. In comparison to the previous year, the company’s 2020 net earnings increased by nearly 35% to $452.4 million.
The US government has prohibited tomato and cotton imports from Xinjiang, claiming that the two industries are tainted with forced labor. However, wind turbines were Xinjiang’s largest export to the United States in 2020, according to the South China Morning Post, citing Chinese government trade data.
“The US is a hot market for wind power, so all suppliers are trying to sell there,” said Xizhou Zhou, who leads the global power and renewables practice at market research firm IHS Markit.
According to a 2018 post published by Goldwind’s company account on the Chinese social media platform WeCha, Wu Gang, Goldwind’s founder and chair, visits southern Xinjiang — a part of the region where Uyghurs make up a larger part of the population — at least six times per year for “poverty alleviation work” that involves living and eating with families in villages due to government requirements. The trips are part of a contentious government program known in Chinese as fanghuiju, an acronym for the slogan “Visit the People, Benefit the People, and Bring the People’s Hearts Together.”
Wu’s involvement in the program is described as part of Goldwind’s efforts to become a good “corporate citizen.” Wu played soccer with local kids and set up “cultural stations” during these trips, according to the article.
However, according to a 2018 Human Rights Watch investigation, the fanghuiju program facilitates state surveillance. Human Rights Watch discovered that during these visits, which can last several days, “families are required to provide officials with information about their lives and political views, and are subjected to political indoctrination.” The group demanded that the government end the program immediately, claiming that there is no evidence that families have the ability to refuse these visits. Human Rights Watch discovered that the fanghuiju program also allows the government to collect data on ethnic minorities, which aids in determining who is detained.
Wu is a former member of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, and currently serves on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a largely ceremonial legislative body.
Goldwind signed a contract with a division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in December, four months after the US sanctioned the organization, to provide power to the small city of Beitun.
Goldwind’s market dominance has earned it a number of Western business partners. The Las Lomas wind project in southern Texas, which consists of 48 wind turbines spread across 36,000 acres near the Mexican border and is operated by the French energy company Engie, sells power to Microsoft. An investigation by the South China Morning Post of shipping records and other official data revealed that Las Lomas obtained wind turbines from Xinjiang Goldwind. Engie, according to Wu, is a major client of the company’s subsidiary Goldwind International.
In response to questions from BuzzFeed News, Engie said, “With regard to the situation of the Uyghurs in China, Engie has decided to carry out specific checks on its concerned suppliers.” The company is also committed to ensuring that no forced labor is used in its supply chain.
In recent months, there has been an increase in scrutiny of Apple’s work in China. The Information reported in May that it and two human rights organizations had discovered seven Apple suppliers linked to forced labor programs. According to the publication, at least five of them “received thousands of Uyghur and other minority workers at specific factory sites or subsidiaries that did work for Apple,” with one Apple supplier running a factory next to a suspected detention center in Xinjiang.
“We urge Apple CEO Tim Cook to divest from Chinese suppliers in Xinjiang who are involved in forced labor,” US Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. James P. McGovern, cochairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “We also request that Apple work with US Customs and Border Protection on their China supply chains to ensure that no Apple import is made using forced labor.” To the atrocities being committed in Xinjiang, a concerted, tough, and global response is required.”