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Foxconn Teen Interns Forced To Make Amazon Devices

A Chinese Foxconn plant assembling Amazon devices has reportedly been accused of underpaying and overworking employees, some of whom are as young as 16-years-old.

Foxconn’s Hengyang plant in central China already came under scrutiny from the independent not-for-profit China Labor Watch organisation last year.

The plant, which produces Echo speakers and Kindle e-readers for the Seattle-based tech behemoth, was criticised for hiring over the legal limit of dispatch workers and forcing them to work excessive overtime.

Amazon and Foxconn promised to improve conditions at the plant, but a new investigation from China Labor Watch has found not only have conditions not improved, they’ve actually gotten worse.

As of last month Foxconn has recruited more than 1,500 “interns” from vocational schools, and is still recruiting more.

The interns reportedly earn around US$1.42 an hour (down from around US$1.58 last year) and were required to work 60 hour weeks, including night shifts.

At a rate of more than 50 times per minute, the workers perform menial, arguably worthless tasks like placing protective plastic films over the top of Echo speakers so they can eventually be peeled off by customers upon removing the device from its packaging.

The factory arranged for teachers to pressure students who were unwilling to work overtime or night shifts.

One intern, 17-year-old Xiao Fang, was told she would be working five days a week, eight hours a day.

Within weeks she had started working two hours overtime per day, and six days per week.

When she told her line manager she didn’t want to work overtime, the manager told her teacher, who then told Fang if she didn’t want to work overtime she couldn’t graduate.

Threats against interns also escalated beyond verbal.

On July 30, workers reportedly witnessed a teacher hitting a student intern, grabbing him by the ear, verbally abusing him and preventing him leaving the workplace.

The teachers reportedly receive a monthly US$425 subsidy from the factory (almost double what the workers are paid), while the school receives US$0.42 for every hour an intern works.

The interns routinely work three months at the Foxconn plant, while their schools suspend classes during the period.

18-year-old Xiao Chen is interning at the plant for a second year in a row, working night shifts to pay fees at his school, which he says “is terrible and has low standards”.

Some students reported the school to the Hengyang Education Bureau for forcing students to intern, but an investigation didn’t reach any conclusion.

The factory has almost 7,500 workers, more than one fifth of whom are interns.

More than a third at the factory are “dispatch workers”, in violation of Chinese labour laws.

These workers are paid a slightly better US$2.06 an hour, while the companies who recruit them earn US$0.50 an hour.

Some workers are housed in dormitories of six to a room, have no awareness of their relevant union, or worker representatives.

China Labor Watch executive director Li Qiang offered to help Amazon CEO and world’s richest person Jeff Bezos improve worker conditions and said China’s labour laws are not being strictly enforced.

“Despite being illegal, Foxconn still recruits a high number of dispatch workers and interns as a means to cut labor costs.”

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