Reports of Forced Student Workers Precede iPhone 5 Release
September 11, 2012

As Apple Prepares for iPhone 5 Release, Reports Emerge of Forced Student Workers at Foxconn Factory

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Normally, the days leading up to an iPhone event are filled with conjecture, rumors and wild speculation. And while there has been no shortage of these stories this year, another story has, yet again, brought to the public´s attention the labor practices of the factories where these iPhones are assembled.

Apple supplier Foxconn China has previously admitted to employing interns in their assembly plants but have always maintained that these students were free to leave whenever they wanted. Today, however, two worker advocacy groups are denying these claims, saying they´ve spoken with multiple students who claim that they have been forced by their teachers to work at the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, China.

Last week Chinese state-run media outlets also reported that several Chinese vocational schools were forcing interns to work in these plants in an attempt to help make up for recent worker shortages.

According to a New York Times report, these media outlets reported that hundreds of students from vocational schools in the city of Huai´an were forced to work at the Foxconn plant to help manufacture iPhone cables as Apple tries to ramp up production ahead of their latest iPhone launch.

Speaking to the New York Times, Li Qiang, founder of the non-profit advocacy group China Labor Watch, said that 10 of the 87 Foxconn workers with whom he spoke were students, and all 10 stated that they had been forced by their vocational school instructors to fill gaps in the production line.

“They don´t want to work there – they want to learn,” said Mr. Li in an interview. “But if they don´t work, they are told they will not graduate, because it is a very busy time with the new iPhone coming, and Foxconn does not have enough workers without the students."

In a statement, Foxconn insisted that students make up less than 3 percent of their 1.2-million-worker labor force, stating that schools “recruit the students under the supervision of the local government, and the schools also assign teachers to accompany and monitor the students throughout their internship.”

According to a Foxconn spokesperson, these internship programs last from one to six months, and they ensure that every student is of legal working age before they are put to work in the factories. This is an important point, as Apple has vowed to bring an end to the practice of working with suppliers that employ underage workers.

"We think that this kind of internship is a sham and a kind of forced labor or involuntary work," said spokesperson for Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) Debby Chan, speaking to CNN.

"The placement to work must be relevant to studies and the students must find it beneficial."

Foxconn and, by association, Apple have come under intense scrutiny this year for working conditions at the Chinese plants. Though Foxconn also assembles products for Dell and HP, Apple has been called on to lead the charge in changing conditions at these factories.

In an effort to demonstrate its commitment, Apple has brought in the nonprofit, third-party Fair Labor Association (FLA) to monitor the working conditions at the plants where iPads, iPhones and MacBooks are assembled. According to the FLA´s audits, Foxconn had taken measures to decrease extreme overtime hours and improve the general working conditions at its plants.

The FLA also noted that Apple and Foxconn have made sure to inform these students that they could leave at anytime and still be eligible for graduation. Upon hearing about these new claims, president and chief executive of the FLA, Auret van Heerden, told the Times, “I am concerned about these recent reports, and we´re following up.”

“If there have been any breakdowns in policies, we expect changes to be made.”