US chip maker Intel has quietly removed requests from suppliers to avoid parts obtained by forced labor from Xinjiang, following China’s social media uproar and state media threats to boycott its products.
The company reminded suppliers in a memo last month that “multiple governments” had banned products from a region where human rights abuses amounting to “genocide” against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities by the United States. have set.
Last month, President Joe Biden signed into law the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans goods from the region unless importers can prove they were not taken through forced labor.
Intel’s notification to suppliers was reported by news sites in China, where social media users came under fire in anger over the reference.
A nationalist news outlet, Guancha, reported on Intel’s letter and made reference to the importance of the Chinese market to the company, pointing to economic leverage and potential room for punishment. Social media users then urged a boycott of technology products containing Intel chips.
Intel then issued an apology, explaining that the note was meant to ensure “compliance with US laws” rather than an expression of the company’s position regarding Xinjiang.
“We apologize for the inconvenience caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public. Intel is committed to being a reliable technology partner to accelerate joint growth with China,” it said.
a wall street journal The report noted Monday that Intel erased the specific reference to Xinjiang in a revised version of its December letter.
The relevant section now reads: “Prohibiting any human trafficking or involuntary labor such as forced, debt bonded, prison, indentured or slave labor into your extended supply chain.”
China accounts for 25 percent of Intel’s annual revenue.
During an online event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank’s Geotech Center, Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger explained the change, which he saw as justified.
“We found that there was no reason for us to specifically call out a region anywhere in the world because there are many regions in the world that have such cases,” he said.
“So we just revised the policy. The policy hasn’t changed. We’ve modified it to not include any one particular region in the world,” he said, noting that Intel never ordered parts from Xinjiang .
Gelsinger was among other corporate leaders who lobbied Congress for the CHIPS Act, which would better fund American chipmakers to increase the competitiveness of the semiconductor industry in the US.
During the Atlantic Council event, he said it was important for companies like the world’s leading Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to diversify their manufacturing away from Asia, a region Gelsinger said was “less geopolitically stable.”
He also expressed concern that China could one day capture important Taiwanese semiconductor plants in the event of an attack.
Senator Marco Rubio, the author of the Uighur bill, issued a statement through his office on Monday in which he criticized Intel’s apology as well as his decision to remove references to Xinjiang despite compliance with the forced labor law.
“Intel’s cowardice is yet another predictable consequence of economic dependence on China,” said the Florida Republican. “Instead of outrageous apologies and self-censorship, companies should shift their supply chains to countries that do not use slave labor or commit genocide.”
He added: “If companies like Intel continue to obscure facts about US law to please the Chinese Communist Party, they should be ineligible for any funding under the Chips Act.”