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Foxconn confirms employment of underage workers

Posted: 18 Oct 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:underage? interns? labour rights? unfair labour practices?

After accusations made by a labour rights watchdog group, Foxconn Technology group has admitted that it employed interns as young as 14, possibly violating China's labour laws.

Foxconn has already issued a statement, saying that it takes full responsibility for the violations. The company said it apologized to the students involved. The firm also promised to investigate and terminate the employment of any Foxconn employee found responsible for the violations.

According to China Labour Watch, a non-profit worker rights group, Foxconn's manufacturing site in Yantai employed a small number of student interns over the summer between 14 and 16 years old. Foxconn has sent the underage interns back to school, according to the group.

"If Foxconn let those interns work the same as those normal workers, then it is a violation of laws," said a spokeswoman for China Labour Watch.

The minimum work age in China is generally 16. However, it is permissible in China to employ interns under 16 if they have lighter workloads than regular works and do not work overtime or night shifts, according to China Labour Watch. The organisation said there is a grey area in China's labour laws with regard to interns.

CNET reported Tuesday that Foxconn acknowledged that employing the underage interns was a violation of Chinese labour law and company policy.

Figure 1: Foxconn workers build products at a facility in Shenzen, China.
Credit: Steve Jurvetson.

Foxconn, an original design manufacturer owned by Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Co. Ltd., makes products for Apple Inc. and others on a contract basis. According to an Associated Press report, Foxconn said its manufacturing facility in Yantailocated in the northeastern Chinese province of Shandongdoes not make any products for Apple.

China Labour Watch said the underage interns were mostly sent to Foxconn by schools. According to the group, the schools involved should take primary responsibility for the violations. But Foxconn is also culpable for not checking the workers' IDs and confirming their ages, according to the group.

Unfair labour practices
Foxconn, the largest private sector employer in China, has been involved in a number of controversies over the last few years stemming from worker unrest and allegations of unfair labour practices. Last month, Foxconn temporarily closed one of its manufacturing facilities in the city of Taiyuan after a riot there. In 2010, Foxconn came under international scrutiny after a string of worker suicides at its plants linked to low pay and poor working conditions.

In January, Apple bowed to public pressure over working conditions at Foxconn and joined the Fair Labour Association (FLA), a watchdog group that independently assesses and monitors working conditions in factories around the world. Apple was the first technology company to join the group.

In March, the FLA issued its first report on Foxconn, detailing "significant issues" with working conditions at three Foxconn factories in China. The FLA said at the time that it secured commitments from Foxconn to reduce working hours to legal limits while protecting pay, improve health and safety conditions and establish a "genuine voice" for workers.

In August, the FLA published a status report verifying that Foxconn was honouring these commitments.

"Our verification shows that the necessary changes, including immediate health and safety measures, have been made," said Auret van Heerden, FLA's president and CEO, in a statement. "We are satisfied that Apple has done its due diligence thus far to hold Foxconn accountable for complying with the action plan, including the commitment to reform its internship program."

- Dylan McGrath
??EE Times

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