Foxconn Technology Group, the same contract company partnered with Apple in making iPhones, admitted using underaged Chinese workers in its factory. The acknowledgment shows the company violated China’s national law that prohibits hiring workers below 16 years old.
Several labor rights activists in the country raised a similar issue with other companies including Foxconn. Many other big companies in China have a so-called student internship program that allows hiring of cheap labor in production lines. Seasoned workers do not usually take production line jobs because they pay off lower than other available jobs.
Foxconn is the trading name of the Taiwanese owned Hon Hai Industry. The company admitted it found some underaged student interns working at a plant in Yantai, in the Shandon province.
“Our investigation has shown that the interns in question, who ranged in age from 14 to 16, had worked in that campus for approximately three weeks,” a prepared statement from the company said.
“This is not only a violation of China’s labor law, it is also a violation of Foxconn policy and immediate steps have been taken to return the interns in question to their educational institutions.”
Foxconn, the largest manufacturing partner of Apple Inc, also manufactures a variety of products for other companies including Hewlett-Packard Co, Sony Corp, and Dell Inc. The Yantai plant involved does not produce Apple products.
Foxconn employs about 1.2 million workers in China. It said the company initiated an investigation after Chinese media reported that it is employing underage workers. Foxconn did not say its other plants violated the national labor law is its other factories.
As a reaction, Foxconn announced that it would cooperate with the local government to prevent the incident from happening again. It specifically mentioned that it would bar the schools involved in its Yantai plant from sending interns unless they can prove that they observe the national labor law and Foxconn’s own policy.
Foxconn also issued a formal apology to the students in the case while also admitting its responsibility.
Foxconn was put in the hot seat in 2010 after reports surfaced that both Foxconn and Apple had committed labor abuses that included excessive demands for overtime. The companies drew criticism around the world after well-publicized suicides were reported.
Foxconn also faced a riot incident last month in its iPhone factory in Taiuan after workers demanded improved living conditions inside the company’s dormitories for migrant workers. Foxconn promised to cut overtime demands down to 9 hours per weeks from the previous 20 hours.
The internship program, according to the company, only composed a total of 2.7 percent in its entire workforce in the country. The company partners with vocational and other schools to give either short-term or long-term options for students.
The recent news is the latest string of issues to haunt the company, which has become a favorite target for labor rights activists.
Foxconn is the largest producer of computer assemblies and components for some of the world’s big electronics companies like Intel, Nokia, Sony, and Apple, among others.
The Chinese labor situation is now comparable to the situation of its neiboring countries a few decades ago, including Taiwan’s, which banned the hiring of workers below 15 since 1984, observers said.
Taiwan’s National Federation of Independent Trade Unions spokesman Chu Wei-li said: “China is repeating what happened in Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s when the economy was taking off and needed a lot of labour.”