Apple manufacturer Foxconn admits to employing underage interns

Foxconn – the manufacturer for Apple, HP, and other gadget giants – said it found underage interns as young as 14 working at one of its factories in China. Despite labor-watch organizations, child labor is still a big concern in China.

Kin Cheung/AP/File
Staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in Shenzhen, China. The company reported this week that it found underage interns working in one of its facilities. Foxconn promised to investigate the problem.

Foxconn, best known for manufacturing Apple’s iPhones and iPads, admitted to finding underage interns at its Yantai factory in China. Foxconn said the eastern city’s factory has no association with any Apple gadgets.

The Associated Press reports that students as young as 14 were discovered during a company inspection of the factory. The minimal legal age to work in China is 16. All students were sent back to their schools and the situation is still under investigation. Foxconn said it is working with the schools to find out how the interns were sent to the factories.

"We recognize that full responsibility for these violations rests with our company and we have apologized to each of the students for our role in this action," Foxconn said in a statement. "Any Foxconn employee found, through our investigation, to be responsible for these violations will have their employment immediately terminated."

Foxconn, who also produces products for Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, has an internship program that takes on vocational students accompanied by teachers, AP reports. Foxconn didn’t comment on how many students were working in the Yantai factory.

“The school will be in charge of sending students and Foxconn will not check IDs,” says Quiang Li, executive director of China Labor Watch, a labor-rights organization that has been investigating the situation.

Mr. Li says that China Labor Watch has received conflicting reports. Some claims say that Foxconn employees knew the workers were underage, while other claims say they didn’t.

“I cannot judge,” says Li, who says he believes Foxconn was not actively using the underage interns. The company is already under careful scrutiny because of previous grievances within the company.

However, China Labor Watch said in a statement, “Foxconn is also culpable for not confirming the ages of their workers.”

Foxconn is well known for its questionable working conditions, which have lead to a multiple reports of suicides and riots within factories.

The Fair Labor Association, which was hired by Apple to audit working conditions at Foxconn factories, said in August that improvements it recommended in March were being carried out ahead of schedule. That included verifying the ages of student interns.

Li says issues with child labor in China continue to be a big concern. “It’s not just Foxconn,” he says.

In a recent report from China Labor Watch, the organization discusses child labor issues and student labor exploitation with Samsung’s supplier HEG Electronics.

“Our research indicates that student workers amount to 80 percent of the factory workforce,” says China Labor Watch in a statement. “These children were working under [the] same harsh conditions as adult workers, but were paid only 70 percent of the wages when compared with the formal employees.”

China Labor Watch also says these students, the youngest interviewed was 14, were often required to carry out dangerous tasks that resulted in injury.

HEG Electronics has denied these accusations.

“Foxconn is behaving much better because they admitted to it,” says Li. 

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