According to a report from China Labor Watch, at least 1,000 Chinese teenagers have been working long and illegal hours in a Chinese factory producing Amazon Alexa devices. The teenagers, aged between 16 and 18, were employed as “interns” at a Foxconn factory in Hengyang, China.
Chinese schools were reportedly paid to send students to the factories and teachers encouraged the students to work overtime according to China Labor Watch. Under Chinese law, factories are allowed to employ students aged 16 or over but these students are not permitted to work nights or overtime.
Notes from a human-resources meeting at the factory state: “Night-shift line leaders should check in with student interns and teachers more often, and report back any abnormal situation so that teachers can persuade students to work night shifts and overtime.” If the children refused to work overtime hours, teachers were instructed to file a resignation letter on their behalf.
One 17-year-old computing student named Xiao Fang started working on the Amazon Echo production line last month, applying a protective film to approximately 3,000 Echo Dots every day. Fang told researchers that her teacher said she would work eight hours a day for five days a week, but since then Fang has worked 10 hours a day for six days a week.
Fang told China Labor Watch researchers: “In the beginning, I wasn’t very used to working at the factory, and now, after working for a month, I have reluctantly adapted to the work. But working 10 hours a day, every day, is very tiring.” Fang stated that her teacher encouraged her to work longer hours stating that if she didn’t, it could affect her graduation and scholarship chances.
“I tried telling the manager of my line that I didn’t want to work overtime,” she said. “But the manager notified my teacher and the teacher said if I didn’t work overtime, I could not intern at Foxconn and that would affect my graduation and scholarship applications at the school.” Fang stated: “I had no choice, I could only endure this.”
Foxconn acknowledged that students had been employed illegally in an email to Business Insider but stated that the company was taking immediate action to fix the issue. The firm stated:
We have doubled the oversight and monitoring of the internship program with each relevant partner school to ensure that, under no circumstances, will interns are allowed to work overtime or nights.
There have been instances in the past where lax oversight on the part of the local management team has allowed this to happen and, while the impacted interns were paid the additional wages associated with these shifts, this is not acceptable and we have taken immediate steps to ensure it will not be repeated.
Amazon, owned by the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, has reportedly sent a team of specialist to investigate the Foxconn factory and told Business Insider that it “does not tolerate violations of its Supplier Code of Conduct” and was “urgently investigating these allegations and addressing this with Foxconn at the most senior level.”