Big Tech’s supply chain puts Uyghurs in chains

10:34-min read

Hello from 20 Minutes into the Future. We need to talk about how Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple & other big tech companies use forced labour to make their products. But first, here’s some news you can use to stay one step ahead of the bastards.

10 stories this week

1: Twitter bans ex-KKK leader David Duke

His penultimate tweet promised to expose the "systemic racism lie", while another claimed to expose the "incitement of violence against white people" by Jewish-owned media.

Well that only took 11 years. Very proactive, Twitter.

2: Uber and Lyft Drivers Win Ruling on Unemployment Benefits

The ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed in late May by drivers and an advocacy group called the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, who argued that the state was taking months to pay unemployed drivers while typically processing benefits for other workers in two to three weeks.

Amazing news. Collective action is one of our best tools in the fight against companies like Uber. Especially during the pandemic.

3: The Age of Mass Surveillance Will Not Last Forever

We are coming to see all too clearly that the construction of these systems was less about connection than it was about control: The proliferation of mass surveillance has tracked precisely with the destruction of public power.

And yet despite this grim reading from my seven years in exile, I find more cause for hope than despair, thanks in no small part to those lasers and traffic cones in Hong Kong. My confidence springs not from how they are applied—to dazzle cameras and, with a little water, to contain and extinguish the gas grenades of a state gone wrong—but in what they express: the irrepressible human desire to be free.

Great read from Snowden.

4: The Portland Protests Are a War Zone—but Only on the Internet

Trump and his backers assert that the deployments are necessary to curb unrest in cities that have become anarchic war zones. You’d be hard-pressed to prove that’s true in Portland if you bothered to look anywhere but Lownsdale Square at midnight. (The only disruptive anarchists in my neighborhood are the crows in my garden.) If any widespread, persistent Portland protest war zone does exist, it isn’t in physical space at all. It’s online.

“What's happening in the streets isn't what you're seeing in the tweets.” 

5: The UK's app failure sums up our fatally flawed coronavirus response

Meanwhile, the Irish government, like many of its European counterparts, decided to go with the Apple and Google system. Since it launched on 6 July, the Covid Tracker app has been downloaded 1.3m times in eight days– the fastest downloaded app per capita in Europe – and has started picking up cases of infection.

Privacy works.

6: Roger McNamee: ‘Facebook is a threat to whatever remains of democracy in the US'

The 2016 election was incredibly close because of a series of factors which would have been hard to predict. But in the end, if you look at voter suppression of suburban white women, black people, and young people who had voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries by the Trump campaign on Facebook and Instagram in the states which Trump had to win, then more than enough voters were discouraged from going to the polls to make the difference. Social media can do this by, for example, running ads which show long queues or disturbances at voting stations, or messaging creating apathy about the democratic process. It took nine things happening before that for that factor to matter at all, but it was really important. So Facebook had a lot to do with Trump getting elected. There were no rules then that said you couldn’t use social media to suppress votes.

Blistering interview with Zuckerberg’s former mentor, Roger McNamee.

7: If you’re not terrified about Facebook, you haven’t been paying attention

We are already through the looking glass. In 2016, a hostile foreign government used Facebook to systematically undermine and subvert an American election. With no consequences. Nobody, no company, no individual or nation state has ever been held to account.

…and more in the same series. This time from the incendiary Carole Cadwalladr. And, as we know, that interference is still ongoing.

8: Biden's path to the White House could hit a dead end on Facebook

So here we are in 2020, 100 days from the presidential election. Trump is still trailing Biden. But his base support has remained solid. So the point I made in June still stands: if he is to win a second term, Facebook will be his only hope – which is why his campaign is betting the ranch on it. And if Facebook were suddenly to decide that it would not allow its platform to be used by either campaign in the period from now until 3 November, Trump would be a one-term president, free to spend even more time with his golf buggy – and perhaps his lawyers.

…And it’s likely going to win another election for Trump.

9: Big Tech Funds a Think Tank Pushing for Fewer Rules. For Big Tech.

The Global Antitrust Institute is bankrolled in large part by tech companies — corporate donors like Google, Amazon and Qualcomm — that are facing antitrust scrutiny from some of the regulators who attended its programs, according to hundreds of pages of emails and documents obtained through open records laws, interviews with four past conference participants, and observation of a conference last year in Huntington Beach.

And it’s working. In Brazil last year alone judges who attended the conference threw out 3 separate investigations against Google.

10: Congress forced Silicon Valley to answer for its misdeeds. It was a glorious sight

Over and over, the CEOs had similar answers. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you. I’m not aware of that. Or long rambling attempts to deflect, followed by members of Congress cutting them off to get answers to crisp questions. I learned two things from the surprisingly wan responses of these powerful men. First, they had not had to deal with being asked for real answers about their business behavior for years, if ever, and so they were not ready to respond. And two, antitrust enforcers for the last 15 years, stretching back to the Bush and Obama administrations, bear massive culpability for the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of these corporations. The emails and information that Congress dug up were available to these enforcers, who nonetheless approved merger after merger, and refused to bring complaints against anti-competitive behavior.

They haven’t answered for anything yet. Only when they’ve been broken up and properly regulated—and in some cases seen their CEOs do jail time—will that be the case.

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Big Tech’s supply chain keeps Uyghurs in chains

On Wednesday the CEOs of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple each patently lied to Congress.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) pointedly asked Pichai, Bezos, Zuckerberg, and Cook about their awareness of forced Uyghur and other ethnic Muslim labour in their supply chains. Each denied awareness of such atrocity. Each called it “abhorrent” and said they’d terminate contracts with suppliers if they were made aware of such allegations.

We know they’re lying thanks to this report from March—Uyghurs for sale—from The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that are using Uyghur labour transferred from Xinjiang since 2017. Those factories claim to be part of the supply chain of 82 well-known global brands. Between 2017 and 2019, we estimate that at least 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories through labour transfer programs under a central government policy known as ‘Xinjiang Aid’ (援疆).

Of those 80+ global brands many fashion and automotive brands like Nike and Volkswagen tend to be the most often cited in the media. Tech companies make a strong showing on the list as well. Amongst the named and shamed are:

  • Asian device makers like Acer, ASUS, Founder Group, Hisense, Hitachi, HTC, Huawei, iFlyTek, Lenovo, LG, Nintendo, Oppo, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, TDK, Toshiba, Vivo, Xiaomi, and ZTE.

  • and Silicon Valley (and related) companies like Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Dell, Google, HP, Microsoft, Nokia, and Oculus which is owned by Facebook.

Look around your home. If you have a new Android, iPhone, Xbox, Playstation, smart TV, or pretty much any tech gadget there’s a chance it was made with forced labour in one of these 27 factories. These CEOs have made us all complicit in their shameful support of enslaved workers and cultural erasure.

Isolation, indoctrination, and intimidation

The International Labor Organization (ILO) lists 11 indicators of forced labour. Isolation, indoctrination, and intimidation are commonplace. Multiple sources in the ASPI report cite the following working conditions for Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities:

  • being subjected to intimidation and threats, such as the threat of arbitrary detention, and being monitored by security personnel and digital surveillance tools

  • being placed in a position of dependency and vulnerability, such as by threats to family members back in Xinjiang

  • having freedom of movement restricted, such as by fenced-in factories and high-tech surveillance

  • isolation, such as living in segregated dormitories and being transported in dedicated trains

  • abusive working conditions, such as political indoctrination, police guard posts in factories, ‘military-style’ management, and a ban on religious practices

  • excessive hours, such as after-work Mandarin language classes and political indoctrination sessions that are part of job assignments.

Chinese authorities like Xinjiang’s Human Resources and Social Affairs Department and factory bosses track workers physically and digitally. Central databases monitor medical and ideological details for each worker in the Xinjiang Aid scheme. Personal data, chat transcripts and location data are extracted from WeChat and purpose-built apps workers are forced to use.

Sources say police routinely search worker dormitories for religious content. If its discovered a worker risks being sent back to the re-education camps in Xinjiang for another 3 to 5 years. Disobeying work orders risks further detention.

And as bad as the forced labour is, things are much worse in the re-education camps where torture is the norm. Kayrat Samarkand, an ethnic Kazakh, recounted his monstrous experience for NPR:

"They made me wear what they called 'iron clothes,' a suit made of metal that weighed over 50 pounds," says Samarkand, drawing a picture of the device on a piece of paper. "It forced my arms and legs into an outstretched position. I couldn't move at all, and my back was in terrible pain."

Samarkand says after half a day of standing like this, he did whatever they told him.

"They made people wear this thing to break their spirits. After 12 hours, I became so soft, quiet and lawful."

He says he chanted "Long live Xi Jinping" when ordered to, sang patriotic songs and never questioned a guard again.

Samarkand was finally allowed to leave the camp, he says, after he attempted to kill himself by banging his head as hard as he could against a wall, which only managed to knock him out. He woke up in a hospital.

The unconscionable hypocrisy of Tim Cook

No other CEO in Wednesday’s hearing has Tim Cook’s expertise and insight into global supply chains. Creating Apple’s supply chain was Cook’s role before succeeding Jobs as CEO. The ASPI report identifies at least 3 factories in Apple’s supply chain that use thousands of forced labourers:

  • O-Film, which makes the iPhone’s selfie camera, has over a thousand Uyghur workers

  • Hubei Yihong, which makes backlights and battery covers, has over a hundred Uyghur workers

  • Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility, which assembles half of the world’s iPhones, has over 500 hundred Uyghur workers

  • The report outlines other factories allegedly a part of Apple’s supply chain like Highbroad, which makes displays and has an multi-year contract with the Government for 1,000 Uyghur workers per year

Tim Cook has personally toured the O-Film facilities. On the 6th of Dec 2017 he posted the following to Weibo, the leading Chinese social media platform:

O-Film published press releases (since deleted) about this visit. In one of them Cook is quoted as praising O-Film for “humane approach towards employees.” In another he said workers seemed “able to gain growth at the company, and live happily.”

An Apple spokesperson told Nikkei. "When we learned of the allegations from ASPI earlier this year, we immediately took additional actions and began a detailed investigation with our suppliers. We have found no evidence of any forced labor on Apple production lines and we plan to continue monitoring."

O-Film remains a part of Apple’s global supply chain. Despite Washington adding it to their blacklist of Chinese tech companies. It’s unclear if Apple has investigated the other factories in ASPI’s report.

Dig deeper

You can read more about other bigoted actions from GAFA with these stories from the 20 Minutes into the Future archive:

Sick and tired of big tech behaving badly? 20 Minutes into the Future is about holding the bastards to account. One way we can do that is by spreading the word of their misdeeds.


Bastard watch

30 million American’s didn’t have enough food to eat last week. 40% of renters are at risk of eviction. Those facts didn’t get in the way of Elon Musk who tweeted: “Another government stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people imo.”

The same Elon Musk who gladly took a stimulus check at the start of the pandemic while calling the whole thing a hoax. The same Elon Musk who’s benefited from almost $5 billion in corporate welfare. The same Elon Musk who doesn’t pay taxes.

I think one could easily argue that Elon Musk is not in the best interests of the people.

Kindred spirits

Mike Montiero is both a friend and an inspiration. He is co-founder and Design Director of Mule Design. When the madness of the pandemic hit, Mike also started up Quarantine Book Club to help authors connect with their readers and to help us all keep our shit together. Mike is also an author in his own right. His most recent book is Ruined By Design which you should read if you haven’t already.

We need more Mikes and less Elons working in tech today if we want a better tomorrow.

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Good night and good future,

20 Minutes into the Future is a critical look at how technology is shaping our lives today. And what actions we can take for a better tomorrow. If you're not already a subscriber and found this newsletter worth your while then please sign up.

My name is Daniel Harvey and I write 20 Minutes into the Future. I’m a product designer and have written for Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Drum, & more. If you're pissed about the current state of tech and want to see us do better then you’ve found a kindred spirit.

You can email me at or follow me on Twitter @dancharvey.