A report in the Financial Times claims Foxconn has employed teenaged students to manufacture iPhone X components and that those students worked illegal overtime. Additionally, according to one of the students cited in the report, a school had students working at the factory as part of their educational programs.
Web of tax breaks and subsidies keeps iPhone production in China
The report cited only six workers out of the thousands working at the facility. But Apple and Foxconn have acknowledged that cases of illegal overtime did occur and that they are taking action to address the situation.
Apple provided the following statement to Ars:
During the course of a recent audit, we discovered instances of student interns working overtime at a supplier facility in China. We’ve confirmed the students worked voluntarily, were compensated, and provided benefits, but they should not have been allowed to work overtime. At this facility, student intern programs are short term and account for a very small percentage of the workforce. When we found that some students were allowed to work overtime, we took prompt action. A team of specialists is on site at the facility working with the management on systems to ensure the appropriate standards are adhered to.
Apple is dedicated to ensuring everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. We know our work is never done and we’ll continue to do all we can to make a positive impact and protect workers in our supply chain.
Six students aged 17 to 19 claimed they had worked 11-hour days on a regular basis after their school, Zhengzhou Urban Rail Transit School, required them to work at the factory for three months as work experience before they could graduate. One 18-year-old said, “We are being forced by our school to work here… The work has nothing to do with our studies.”
In its statement, Foxconn said, “All work was voluntary and compensated appropriately, [but] the interns did work overtime in violation of our policy.”
Foxconn says its internship program involved cooperation “with local governments and a number of vocational schools.” The education ministry of the province in which these students studied and worked had asked local vocational schools to send students to Foxconn, according to one of Financial Times‘ sources.
The report frames this in the context of Apple’s production delays. News reports abounded prior to and shortly after the iPhone X’s launch claiming that Apple was struggling to manufacture certain parts. According to those reports, the company and its production partners were struggling to keep up with their shipment goals on the phone. Despite that framing, the Times report doesn’t establish a clear or direct connection between these events.
Foxconn and Apple have come under scrutiny for conditions and circumstances of labor in China before. In 2012, there were reports of factory worker riots and use of underage workers, and both Apple and Foxconn agreed to work to improve factory conditions and share the costs of doing so.
These efforts continue, and Apple’s internal reports have claimed that conditions have improved generally since then. According to its 2017 Supplier Responsibility report, Apple only found one underage worker—”a 15½ year old” where the legal working age is 16—in its supply chain audit, and the company moved quickly to address it.
The report says:
We required the supplier to provide safe passage home for the underage worker and to continue paying their wages while also providing an educational opportunity. Upon the underage worker becoming of legal age, the supplier will be required to provide them with an employment opportunity.
Compared to past infractions, the overtime issue might seem relatively minor, but Apple and Foxconn are under intense scrutiny due to prior problems.
This post originated on Ars Technica