A new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (an "independent, non-partisan think tank"), alleges that from 2017 through to 2019, more than 80,000 Uighur Muslims have been moved to factories across China, where they now work under surveillance with restricted freedom of movement and are being made to undergo re-education programs. The factories in question directly or indirectly support "at least 83 well-known global brands," including Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Apple, Amazon, Google, HTC, and Oculus.
This, the report describes, is another step in the systematic oppression of Uighurs in China. In 2018, human rights experts from the United Nations raised concerns over reports that over a million of China's estimated 10 million Uighur minority were being held in internment camps in the Xinjiang province. Last November, the Associated Press published secret government documents detailing policies and practices for the surveillance, re-education, and forced assimilation of Uighurs and other minorities in these camps.
In response to its story about the report, Vice received a statement from a Microsoft spokesperson, but has not received responses from Nintendo or Sony:
Microsoft is committed to responsible and ethical sourcing. [...] We take this responsibility very seriously and take significant steps to enforce our policies and code of conduct in support of human rights, labor, health and safety, environmental protection, and business ethics through our assurance program. All forms of forced labor are specifically banned by our Supplier Code of Conduct. We are investigating the claims and will take appropriate action if breaches of our code of conduct exist.
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock told The Washington Post that the company "is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."
"Interwoven supply chains and the mixed nature of their workforces, which draw on both Han and Uighur workers, make it particularly difficult for companies to ensure that their products are not associated with forced labor," reads one part of the think tank's report. Under its recommendations section, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute advises that every company named in the report "conduct immediate and thorough human rights due diligence" on its Chinese factory labor, followed by complete process transparency and "appropriate and immediate remedial action" or severing of ties with factories that have used forced labor.
In December, Chinese publisher and investor NetEase removed Arsenal player Mesut Özil from China's version of PES 2020 after he publicly condemned the government's treatment of Uighurs.
On top of ethical concerns regarding Chinese factory labor, game and tech companies' supply chains depending on the country are facing delays and production issues stemming from the spread of COVID-19, better known as the novel coronavirus. In early February, Nintendo announced that Switch peripheral production had been slowed by factory quarantines. Concern for delays of Switch consoles followed, and Valve recently announced that it expects fewer units of its Index VR headset to be restocked ahead of the launch of Half-Life: Alyx.
A recent Business Insider report warns that the launches of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 could be impacted and even delayed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Pandemic safety issues aside, this new think tank report raises the possibility that Microsoft and Sony will need to perform thorough human rights labor audits ahead of the production of this year's new consoles.