At The Guardian, Gethin Chamberlain reports that documents leaked to U.S.-based China Labor Watch show that hundreds of teenagers, some as young as 16, have been illegally working overtime at a Hengyang, Hunan Foxconn factory to meet production targets on Amazon products.
According to the documents, the teenagers – drafted in from schools and technical colleges in and around the central southern city of Hengyang – are classified as “interns”, and their teachers are paid by the factory to accompany them. Teachers are asked to encourage uncooperative pupils to accept overtime work on top of regular shifts.
Some of the pupils making Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo and Echo Dot devices along with Kindles have been required to work for more than two months to supplement staffing levels at the factory during peak production periods, researchers found. More than 1,000 pupils are employed, aged from 16 to 18.
[…] The company defended its use of schoolchildren, however, claiming that “it provides students, who are all of a legal working age, with the opportunity to gain practical work experience and on-the-job training in a number of areas that will support their efforts to find employment following their graduation.”
[…] Teenagers who spoke to researchers said the factory work has no relevance to their courses and they have been pressed into working overtime. [Source]
Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturing contractor that also is a major producer for Apple, attracted criticism as early as 2007 for poor working conditions, associated worker suicides, and illegal child labor at mainland factories. Both Amazon and Foxconn promised in June 2018 to swiftly tackle illegal working conditions after an exposé revealed agency workers’ “unethical and illegal” conditions at the Hengyang plant.
Bloomberg News’ Matt Day and Debby Wu have more on the renewed criticism of Foxconn from U.S.-based China Labor Watch:
It’s the second time the Taiwanese company, which assembles many of the world’s most popular gadgets, has come under scrutiny for its treatment of workers at its plant in the central city of Hengyang. China Labor Watch last year criticized the facility, which produces Echo speakers and Kindle e-readers for Amazon, for relying on temporary workers — including high school interns — and overtime beyond limits set by law.
“Amazon and Foxconn responded that they would make improvements to the factory’s working conditions,” China Labor Watch said. “However, CLW’s 2019 investigation found that Foxconn’s working conditions did not improve, and instead deteriorated.”
[…] Last year’s report from China Labor Watch put the spotlight back on Foxconn, as well as on its customer Amazon, which sells an expanding range of consumer electronics, from smart speakers and tablets to streaming devices. Amazon last year said it asked Foxconn to make changes after a March 2018 audit of the Hengyang facility uncovered violations regarding overtime and use of dispatch workers.
“We are urgently investigating these allegations and addressing this issue with Foxconn at the most senior level,” Amazon spokesman Sam Kennedy said in an emailed statement this week. [Source]
Taiwan News’ Duncan DeAeth briefly summarizes the new CLW report:
The report “Amazon Recruits Illegally: Interns Forced to Work Overtime” finds that interns currently constitute around 20 percent of the factory’s workforce, and most of the interns are high-school age. Many are being forced to work night shifts and some have even been pressed to work 40 or even 60 hour work weeks to make Echo speakers and Amazon Kindle e-readers, according to the report.
The number of interns is over double of what is legally permitted under local regulations. There are also allegations of verbal and physical abuse of interns by supervisors at the factory.
The company was forced to cut salaries by 16 percent in 2019, which has made it difficult for the facility to maintain competitive pay. As a result of fewer people willing to work full-time at the factory, Foxconn and Amazon have been forced to coerce very low paid interns and temporary dispatch laborers to join their workforce, well in excess of what is legally permissible. [Source]
Read both reports, “Amazon’s Supplier Factory Foxconn Recruits Illegally: Interns Forced to Work Overtime” (Aug 8, 2019), and “Amazon Profits from Secretly Oppressing its Supplier’s Workers: An Investigative Report on Hengyang Foxconn” (Jun 10, 2018), from China Labor Watch.
In 2017, Foxconn announced its first U.S.-based plant would be in Wisconsin after the state promised the company massive subsidies to build an LCD factory in 2017. After falling behind schedule with construction and progressively shrinking its planned size, the Wisconsin Department of Administration has reportedly requested a renegotiation.