Underaged interns were found working in a Foxconn manufacturing facility, the company admitted after conducting an internal audit. An undisclosed number of workers, aged 14 to 16, worked on site for about three weeks before management took action, according to statements made by Foxconn to Bloomberg News.
Labor rights organization China Labor Watch initially reported the issue on Monday, stating that the students, sent by their schools as “interns” were not properly identified by Foxconn management. “The schools involved in this incident should take primary responsible, but Foxconn is also culpable for not confirming the ages of their workers,” the organization said in its press release.
Faced with the report’s allegations, Foxconn’s own investigation confirmed the existence of a “small number” of underaged intern workers.
While the facility in question does not manufacture products for Apple, both Apple and Foxconn are highly sensitive to any accusations of improper employment procedures following heightened scrutiny of the Cupertino company’s supplier workforce over the past year.
Another labor issue was recently publicized when several thousand Foxconn employees walked off the job in early October in protest of allegedly unrealistic quality control demands in the production of the iPhone 5.
Foxconn claims that it will address the lapses in procedures that allowed the underaged interns to work: “Any Foxconn employee found, through our investigation, to be responsible for these violations will have their employment immediately terminated. 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 told Bloomberg in an emailed statement.
For its part, Apple has taken public strides to address worldwide concern over unfair and unsafe labor practices. Since it began publicly disclosing its “Supplier Responsibility” metrics, Apple has noted measurable improvements in working hour and safety compliance. The company has also taken a hard stance against underage labor:
Apple does not tolerate the use of underage labor. When we discover suppliers with underage workers or find out about historical cases — where workers had either left or reached legal working age by the time of the audit — we demand immediate corrective action.
We require suppliers to return underage workers to school and pay educational expenses, living stipends, and lost wages for six months or until the worker reaches the age of 16, whichever is longer. We also ensure that students have the support they need to succeed in school. We help students contact their families, identify educational options, and enroll in school — and we follow up on their progress. If underage workers have already left the facility, we try to locate them and offer the same support for their education.
Apple’s relatively newly publicized supplier requirements and international pressure on employers like Foxconn have resulted in improvements, according to a Fair Labor Association report in August, although all parties involved recognize and acknowledge that continuing steps need to be taken.
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