App Store includes apps from blacklisted Chinese group tied to Uyghur genocide

A new report from The Information this morning highlights that Apple is hosting a number of apps on the App Store made by a Chinese paramilitary group that’s been blacklisted by the US government. Apple says that it’s complying with US law but the news comes as the company is facing more pressure to cut any possible ties to abuse and genocide against the Uyghur Muslim people in the Xinjiang region.

Continuing to do business in this part of China has become more perilous for US companies like Apple, Nike, and more as accusations grow that the Chinese government is involved in forced labor, abuse, and genocide against the Uyghur Muslim minority.

The report says that the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps is the group in question with a variety of apps on the App Store:

The apps, which provide news, offer information about government services and help small businesses manage orders for e-commerce, ride hailing and home repairs, were created by various units of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a paramilitary organization in charge of the region’s economy and security. Several Western governments and human rights groups have accused the Corps of detaining and physically abusing or sterilizing up to 2 million Uyghurs, the ethnically Turkic residents of northwestern China. Chinese officials have repeatedly denied the allegations.

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The US government has blacklisted the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, meaning companies and organizations from the US can’t do business with the group. However, Apple says it is aware of the situation and is complying with US law.

An Apple spokesman said in a statement, without elaborating, that the company reviewed the apps and they complied with U.S. law. The U.S. Treasury Department didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.

The report highlights that US blacklist compliance is handled by US Treasury officials and it isn’t a publicly transparent process. Further, how mobile apps fit into the picture isn’t known.

Eight lawyers who specialize in blacklist compliance said U.S. guidelines regarding mobile apps made by sanctioned entities aren’t clear and only Treasury officials could decide whether Apple is violating the law. The lawyers said they would err on the side of caution by telling companies to block the apps or seek guidance from U.S. officials.

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We’ve previously seen Apple block apps and even the entire App Store in countries like Iran in accordance with US law.

While the App Store is one part of the picture, another is Apple’s third-party vendors. Apple said in its 2020 Supplier Responsibility Report that said 82% of suppliers were “high performers” and the “low performers” fell to a record of below 1%.

Meanwhile, the US government passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the House back in fall 2020, and it has now been reintroduced to Congress on March 11 this year. Before long, we could see more restrictions on how US companies can do business in the region.

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