Apple, which celebrates its self-professed commitment to free expression and human rights, has reportedly told its suppliers in Taiwan to label their components so they describe Taiwan as a province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
According to Japanese financial publication Nikkei, Apple on Friday warned its suppliers that China has ramped up enforcement of a long-standing import rule “that Taiwanese-made parts and components must be labeled as being made either in ‘Taiwan, China’ or ‘Chinese Taipei.'”
The Register asked Apple to comment on this report and the iGiant used its free expression to say nothing. Were Apple to respond, it would presumably say something like, “We follow the law in countries where we do business,” or “we were only following orders.”
Taiwan was recognized as a sovereign country by the United Nations from 1949 until 1971, when the UN General Assembly voted to expel the Republic of China (Taiwan) and admit the PRC (mainland China). Since then, the US has maintained a “one China policy” that recognizes the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China without accepting Chinese claims of sovereignty over Taiwan, officially a territory.
Nevertheless, the US provides arms to Taiwan and considers it an important trading partner – more so than ever given the economic and strategic significance of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which makes tons of chips for America and the rest of the world.
While China and the US have allowed the status of Taiwan to remain ambiguous to avoid open warfare, the uneasy peace frequently gets tested, as was the case this week when Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, visited Taiwan after being warned away by the Chinese government.
US warns losing access to Taiwanese chips could break the economy
Pelosi’s visit infuriated the CCP, which responded by holding threatening military exercises and announcing countermeasures, including the suspension of military, legal, and economic cooperative efforts between China and the US. CCP authorities also sanctioned Pelosi and her family. China’s decision to enforce its import labeling rules to designate Taiwan as its own province presumably follows from this fit of pique.
Apple has prospered by relying on Chinese companies as part of its supply chain. But its dependence on China for sales and product assembly has left the corporation unwilling to challenge egregious abuses, although it argues otherwise.
In September, 2020, Apple issued a document [PDF] titled “Our Commitment to Human Rights.” It states, “At Apple and throughout our supply chain, we prohibit harassment, discrimination, violence, and retaliation of any kind—and we have zero tolerance for violations motivated by any form of prejudice or bigotry.”
Apple has shown a bit more tolerance for China’s mass detention of Muslim Uyghurs.
In December, 2020, the Tech Transparency Project reported that Apple’s suppliers depend upon forced labour. And in May 2021, a report by The Information accused seven of Apple’s suppliers of relying on forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.
When US lawmakers proposed a law to hold companies accountable for allowing suppliers to use forced labour, Apple lobbied against the bill which was nevertheless signed into law by President Biden towards the end of last year. Apple also lobbied the SEC, unsuccessfully, to block a shareholder proposal to require the company to disclose more details about supply chain labor practices.
After Apple CEO Tim Cook talked up his company’s supposed commitment to privacy at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit 2022, Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr challenged Cook in a public letter over Apple’s removal of the Voice of America app from its App Store in China.
Taiwan prosecutors claim Chinese biz swiped IP and R&D team from Apple supplier
Benjamin Ismail, project director for AppleCensorship.com, associated with China-focused advocacy group Great Fire, told The Register in an email that his organization responded to Nikkei’s report about Taiwan product labeling by expressing concern via Twitter that it may only be a matter of time before Apple starts removing apps that contain the characters “台湾/台灣” (Taiwan) without specifying “province of China” from its App Store.
“We asked if Apple would soon start to censor apps with names that don’t follow Beijing’s rules or because of their content,” said Ismail. “Unfortunately, it was not a rhetorical question or a sarcastic joke. We know well that such censorship is something Apple is totally capable of doing, as it has demonstrated time and time again over the past decade.”
As an example, Ismail pointed to Apple’s censorship of Taiwan’s flag emoji on iOS devices sold in Hong Kong and Macao.
“During the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong, [Apple] removed an app used by protesters for safety purposes,” he said. “It gave very strict directives to its employees about their involvement in the movement, and abusively and heavily restricted their freedom of expression.”
“Unfortunately, we suspect that Apple’s ‘red-line,’ the moment where it will say ‘stop, no longer, we cannot continue to collaborate with the Chinese regime and enforce its requests for censorship,’ is nowhere close,” Ismail said. “Apple has shown it is willing to go very far to secure the Chinese market, including violating sanctions by doing business with entities targeted by US sanctions (see here, here, here and here).
“But we are determined to continue to expose Apple’s censorship and violations of human rights. No company, let alone a Big Tech company, should be allowed to prioritize profit over human rights and individuals’ freedoms.” ®