Apple has been accused of relying on students working illegal overtime to build the iPhone X, through its contractor Foxconn, which manufactures the devices in Zhengzhou, China.
According to the Financial Times, students working at the Foxconn plant, as part of a three month "work experience" placement, were routinely working 11-hour days assembling the newest phone, breaking Chinese overtime laws in the process.
Student labour is common, and legal, in manufacturing hubs in China. The students must be paid, and the placements must be voluntary, with the number of temporary workers swelling employment at the Zhengzhou factory threefold in the busiest time of the year, the paper reported.
But, according to the Financial Times, such work experience should be limited to just 40 hours a week. Six high school students, out of a group of 3,000 from one vocational school sent to work at the factory, told the that those legal limits were exceeded.
In a statement, Apple said: "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 are 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."
Foxconn told the newspaper that "all work was voluntary and compensated appropriately" but admitted that "the interns did work overtime in violation of our policy".
Li Qiang, the executive director of New York-based nonprofit China Labour Watch, said: "When Apple’s production demands it, Apple completely ignores the labour standards they have set.
"Apple allows factories to make workers put in overtime hours without restriction … and for student workers to work night shifts and put in excessive overtime hours."
The voluntary nature of these student placements has long come under scrutiny. The Financial Times quotes one student as claiming "we are being forced by our school to work here" -- a claim Apple denies. The student, who is training to be a train attendant at the Zhengzhou Urban Rail Transit School, said that the work had nothing to do with her studies.
More than five years ago, three other Foxconn plants in China were found to be in breach of numerous health and safety regulations, exceeding working hours -- including some employees working for more than 11 days straight - and being over-reliant on student labour.
In the 2012 report, which covered Foxconn’s 178,000 workers in Guanlan, Longhua and Chengdu, the Fair Labor Association noted that student workers, aged 16 and 17, peaked in the summer month at more than 5% of the entire workforce. The average age at the plants was just 23.
In October, Quanta Computer, another Taiwan-owned technology manufacturing firm whose clients include Apple, HP and Sony, was accused of relying on student labour working 12-hour days to build laptops.
"We were forced to come," said one 18-year-old intern at Quanta Chongqing, according to Hong Kong-based non-profit Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour. "Every semester, our school recruits new students but our campus is small. When they don’t have enough space in the classrooms or dormitories, they force students out to do internships and then let the new students stay in our dorms."
Quanta Computer denied the report’s allegations and said: "After internal verification, we believe that the allegations … are untrue and unfair to the company."
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