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Taiwan‘s Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics maker, has admitted using student interns as young as 14 in a Chinese factory.

The case is in breach of national law and raises further questions about its intern programme.

Employment rights activists in China have accused Foxconn and other big employers in the country of using young student interns as a cheap source of labour for production lines, where it is difficult to attract adult workers to lower-paid jobs.

Foxconn, the trading name of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, said it had found that some interns at a factory in Yantai, in the north-eastern Shandong province, were under the legal working age of 16. It did not say how many were underage.

“Our investigation has shown that the interns in question, who ranged in age from 14 to 16, had worked in that campus for approximately three weeks,” the company said.

“This is not only a violation of China’s labour law, it is also a violation of Foxconn policy and immediate steps have been taken to return the interns in question to their educational institutions.”

Foxconn is Apple‘s largest manufacturing partner and makes products for Dell, Sony and Hewlett-Packard among others. It said the Yantai factory was not making Apple products.

It made the announcement after investigating Chinese media reports of underage interns among its Chinese workforce of 1.2 million. It said it had found no evidence of similar violations at any of its other plants in China.

Foxconn said it would work with local government to bar the schools involved in the Yantai case from the intern programme unless they were shown to be compliant with employment law and company policy.

“However, we recognise that full responsibility for these violations rests with our company and we have apologised to each of the students for our role in this action,” the company said.

Foxconn and Apple have been forced to improve working conditions at Chinese factories that make most of the world’s iPads and iPhones after a series of suicides in 2010 and reports of employment abuses, such as excessive overtime, threw a spotlight on conditions inside the plants. In response to the scrutiny, Foxconn plans to cut overtime to fewer than nine hours a week from 20.

In September, a riot broke out at a Foxconn plant assembling iPhones in the northern city of Taiyuan over living conditions inside on-site dormitories for migrant workers.

The company defended its intern programme, saying the workers made up only 2.7% of its workforce in China. Internships could be long-term or short-term, carried out in co-operation with vocational schools and other educational institutions. The average internship lasted three and a half months, it said.

From: guardian.co.uk – Read more

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