In July, a 17-year-old high school student in China was sticking protective film over 3,000 Amazon Echo dots a day at the Foxconn factory in Hengyang. She was working ten hours a day and six days a week. And she was among more than 1,000 students employed by the factory to work overtime on Amazon’s devices.
“I tried telling the manager of my line that I didn’t want to work overtime,” the student, who went by the pseudonym Xiao Fang, told anonymous researchers who leaked their findings and transcripts of interviews with workers to Chinese Labor Watch. “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. I had no choice, I could only endure this.”
The China Labor Watch report, published on Thursday, covers a 2019 investigation into the Foxconn Hengang factory and the Guardian was allowed to review the underlying documents. Among the report’s findings was the claim that high school students ages 16 through 18 across a number of schools were recruited to work at the factory, and teachers were tasked with pressuring the teens into working overtime or night shifts. That often meant physical and verbal attacks on these interns, the report states.
Like Xiao, some of these interns were reportedly assigned the job of making Echo and Echo dot devices as well as Kindles and were employed for over two months to help fill a labour gap at the factory.
Xiao Chen, 18, was another student that interned at the Foxconn factory, according to the report. In September of last year, his vocational school suspended classes so that all the students could intern at the factory, of which some reported this to the Hengyang Education Bureau. Xiao’s second time interning was voluntary—he works night shifts and manufactures Echo devices to help pay off student fees. He works ten hours a day, six days a week.
The China Labor Watch investigation found that Foxconn had recruited 1,581 interns from vocational schools as of 26 July. The interns were paid about $1.42 (£1.18) per hour, which was a decreased wage from the previous year. They also didn’t get any living stipends or bonuses, which they had in 2018. Teachers received a $425 (£353) subsidy from the factory, and schools were given $0.42 (£0.35) for each hour an intern worked, so there was certainly an incentive for both the factory and the school to log more hours.
While it isn’t illegal for a 16-year-old to work in China, it does violate the country’s labour law for them to work overtime or night shifts. In notes from a meeting addressing the issue of potentially missing production goals without the students working on prohibited shifts, management made it clear that they were aware of the issue. The Guardian quotes a Foxconn official telling attendees of the meeting that, “Nightshift 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 nightshifts and overtime.”
This isn’t the first time Foxconn has been mired in controversy over its illegal labour practices regarding young workers. In 2017, six students ages 17 to 19 claimed that they had been working 11-hour days at a Foxconn plant in China as part of a mandatory, three-month programme with their school. The students were reportedly among a group of 3,000 student interns tasked with helping to build the new iPhone X.
When reached for comment, an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo:
We do not tolerate violations of our Supplier Code of Conduct. We regularly assess suppliers, using independent auditors as appropriate, to monitor continued compliance and improvement—if we find violations, we take appropriate steps, including requesting immediate corrective action. We are urgently investigating these allegations and addressing this with Foxconn at the most senior level. Additional teams of specialists arrived on-site this week to investigate, and we’ve initiated weekly audits of this issue.
A Foxconn spokesperson paraphrased by The Guardian said that the company “would increase the number of regular workers and review salaries immediately.”
Beyond just violating labour laws in China, the practice of exploiting students to meet the production needs during peak season is especially shitty when you remember just how much money Amazon is going to make off of their low-paid, intensely gruelling, and academically valueless labour.
Featured image: Getty