‘Tibetans and Uyghurs not accepted’: Apple supplier probes hiring discrimination

by Cissy Zhou and Alan Wong

Now hiring: workers at the world’s biggest iPhone factories.

Tibetans and Uyghurs need not apply.

The exclusion of ethnic minority job seekers was openly stated by a recruiting agency for Foxconn, Apple’s largest supplier, in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou.

In response to an inquiry from Inkstone, Foxconn said on Friday that it had begun an investigation into the agency and vowed to help end discriminatory hiring.

“It has come to our attention that an unauthorized recruitment agency may be using our name illegally for recruitment purposes and without Foxconn approval,” the company said in a statement to Inkstone.

“We immediately alerted local government officials to this possible illicit activity and an investigation into the recruitment agency in question is underway.”

The hiring practice of the agency, Li Zhong Human Resources, is just one of many instances of ethnic discrimination in China that experts and labor advocates say are prevalent in the country.

And Foxconn’s vow to enforce a code of conduct on its suppliers and to sever business ties with those failing to abide by it speaks to industry leaders’ power in eliminating workplace discrimination – if they want to.

“Apple and Foxconn have a corporate social responsibility to reduce all forms of discriminatory hiring, whether it is on an ethnic or gender basis, or the like,” said Reza Hasmath, professor in political science at the University of Alberta.

“This responsibility also extends to their supply chain partners and recruitment agencies.”

Apple and Foxconn have a corporate social responsibility to reduce all forms of discriminatory hiring -
Reza Hasmath, University of Alberta

In fact, Apple’s code of conduct, established in 2004, explicitly forbids suppliers from discrimination against workers based on their ethnicity.


But in 2013, a labor rights watchdog said it found instances of ethnic discrimination at two Chinese factories of another Apple supplier, Pegatron, among other suspected labor misconduct.

The group, China Labor Watch, accused the supplier of refusing to hire members of China’s HuiTibetan and Uyghur minorities.

Apple said it would investigate the claims, and it addressed some of the labor issues raised in its subsequent reports on supplier responsibility, vowing to curb excessive work hours and improve workers’ living conditions.

But Li Qiang, executive director and the founder of China Labor Watch, accused Apple of dragging its feet when it came to ending hiring discrimination against ethnic minorities.

“Apple doesn’t want trouble. It is implicitly allowing factories to not hire Uyghurs and Tibetans,” Li told Inkstone.

Apple doesn’t want trouble. It is implicitly allowing factories to not hire Uyghurs and Tibetans

- Li Qiang, executive director and founder, China Labor Watch

Apple declined to comment on the allegations.

Li said that many companies are wary of hiring minority workers for fear that they might be unable to gel with the majority Han Chinese workers, citing language barriers and their different cultural and religious practices.

“But this is discrimination,” he said, adding the local governments are protecting the companies out of an economic interest despite national laws forbidding worker discrimination.

In Zhengzhou, which locals have come to nickname “iPhone city,” there are few companies as indispensable as Foxconn.

Once impoverished, the landlocked city broke into the top 20 Chinese cities in terms of gross domestic product for the first time in 2011, a year after Foxconn’s plant in Zhengzhou began running.

Every minute in 2017, more than 180 iPhones rolled off the production lines of Foxconn’s facilities in the city, in a special trade zone created specifically to woo the Taiwanese multinational to the city.

In total, 98.7 million iPhones were exported from the factories in that year alone, accounting for two-thirds of the city’s smartphone output, according to a government report.

As the largest private employer in China, Foxconn has more than 1 million workers in China on its payroll, the bulk of them in Zhengzhou and the southern tech hub of Shenzhen.

Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou are paid a monthly salary of about 2,100 yuan ($313), less than one-third the average salary in the city.

Still, coupled with overtime work – and the extra pay that comes with it – the factory work has attracted many migrant workers from across the region who might not be able to land an office job.

But however attractive the job might be, the Zhengzhou hiring agency’s overt discriminatory practice shows how minority workers can be shut out of opportunities available to everyone else.

Founded in 2017, the agency, Li Zhong, refers dozens of workers to Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facilities every day, even in the recent low season caused by a dip in global iPhone sales.

In the job posting on the wall of its office, the ethnic exclusion was listed alongside requirements that job seekers had no infectious diseases, cigarette burn marks on their skin, tattoos or metal in their body.

While it is hard to assess how many people have been turned away by exclusionary job postings, Hasmath of the University of Alberta told Inkstone that research has found clear evidence of economic discrimination against ethnic minorities in the Chinese workforce.

Hasmath’s research has found that for every $100 that a Han Chinese earns for doing a job in China, an ethnic minority will earn between $75-80 for doing the exact same work.

That is, of course, if minority job seekers are not shut out in the first place owing to their ethnicity.