Critics of the bill worry it creates a "presumption of forced labor" which is difficult for accused companies to counter. Human rights advocates say that China has transferred Uyghur Muslims out of Xinjiang to work elsewhere in the country and it is difficult for any U.S. company with operations in China to ensure it isn't benefiting from forced labor.
A March report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said O-Film Technology, a contractor for Apple, Microsoft and Google, among other companies, has received at least 700 Uyghur workers as part of a program that aims to "gradually alter their ideology."
Foxconn Technology and other suppliers of Apple take part in similar employment programs.
Apple has suggested changes to the bill like extending compliance deadlines, releasing some supply chain information to congressional committees rather than to the public, and requiring the U.S. government to designate Chinese entities that help surveil or detain Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang, the New York Times reports.
Apple has disputed claims it wants to weaken the proposed law. The company said it backs stronger regulation and wants the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to become law, the New York Times reports. The company claims to have the strongest supplier conduct code in its industry, and its assessments include surprise audits.
"Looking for the presence of forced labor is part of every supplier assessment we conduct and any violations of our policies carry immediate consequences, including business termination," Apple said in a statement.
"Earlier this year, we conducted a detailed investigation with our suppliers in China and found no evidence of forced labor on Apple production lines and we are continuing to monitor this closely."
However, Cathy Feingold, director of the international department for the AFL-CIO labor union, countered that "What Apple would like is we all just sit and talk and not have any real consequences."
"They're shocked because it's the first time where there could be some actual effective enforceability," she told the Washington Post.
Xinjiang produces raw materials including cotton, coal, sugar, tomatoes and polysilicon. Its workforce includes apparel and footwear factory workers.
Nike has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2020 to lobby Congress and government agencies on Xinjiang-related legislation, and Coca-Cola's millions in lobbying expenditures include lobbying on the act. In March Nike said its products do not have sources in Xinjiang and it has confirmed its suppliers do not use yarn or textiles from the region.
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Nike said that a factory in Qingdao, a major city in the eastern Shangdong province, stopped hiring new workers from Xinjiang in 2019, citing an independent audit's reports that there were no Xinjiang employees there. However, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute report cited state media reports indicating around 800 Uyghur workers were there at the end of 2019 and made over seven million pairs of Nike shoes each year.
The Trump administration has taken action to block the import of some goods from the Xinjiang region and to sanction companies growing cotton in the area.
However, lawmakers sought additional action to respond to concerns that companies are profiting from the forced labor taking place in the internment camps, which have been compared to the concentration camps under Nazi Germany.
U.S. law already bars the importation of goods made with forced labor, but the law is rarely enforced and violations are hard to prove, the Washington Post said.