Latest Foxconn Allegations: “Interns” Forced to Make iPhones

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Here we go again. I thought that after the last report issued by the Fair Labor Association, Foxconn was basically in the clear. Apparently that conclusion was slightly premature.

The New York Times‘ David Barboza and Charles Duhigg revisit their earlier Foxconn stomping grounds (editorially speaking, that is) to bring us the latest:

Foxconn has acknowledged using student “interns” on manufacturing lines, but says they are free to leave at any time. But two worker advocacy groups said Monday that they had spoken with students who said they had been forced by their teachers to assemble iPhones at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, in north-central China.

The allegation and dispute seem to be centered on two issues:

1. Were the students being forced to work there or could they leave at any time?

2. Were the students otherwise coerced by their teachers to work there? (e.g., no work = no graduation)

Maybe I’m way off base here, but what the hell were students doing on an assembly line at all? I understand that these are vocational schools, but unless they were training to be line workers, what’s the benefit of this kind of “experience”?

“The university told us it’s a good way to experience corporate culture,”a 19-year-old student told China Daily newspaper. “Even though many of my classmates are reluctant to go to Foxconn, our teachers still asked us to work there starting in August.”

If these allegations are true, then I think we all know what happened here. Students were being used as a backup labor force when Foxconn got really busy. Someone at the company was paying the schools, some of which shut down entirely when the students were at Foxconn working, to supply the needed labor. In other words, someone was making a lot of money off of this, and it wasn’t the students. (I wonder if the students were compensated at all?)

On a side note, I’m glad that Barboza and Duhigg used the term “intern” in quotation marks. Unless there really was an education component somewhere that escapes me, these kids were not in any type of internship program that you or I would find remotely familiar outside of a Dickens novel.

What happens next? The Fair Labor Association says that it will follow up on these allegations. This must not only be embarrassing to Apple and Foxconn,  but also to the FLA, which issued that very positive report just days ago. What are we supposed to think of the FLA’s quality control if it allowed something like this to escape detection? (I’m assuming that the FLA inspections included the same facility/facilities discussed in the NYT article.)

If they do find existing problems and ask Foxconn to remedy the situation, that’s all well and good. However, I’d really like to see the local authorities check out these vocational schools. If these institutions are licensed by the Ministry of Education, that approval should be yanked ASAP. I don’t know whether the school taking money from Foxconn violates the law, but if that did happen and it is a violation, let’s get after ’em.

I have to say that compared to the earlier Foxconn problems (e.g. overtime, problems with benefits, worker safety), coercing students to work for you is about as bad as it gets.

13 responses on “Latest Foxconn Allegations: “Interns” Forced to Make iPhones

  1. numble

    The FLA inspections were at two Shenzhen factories, and one in Chengdu.

    Not factories in Huai’an or Zhengzhou.

    They put together an internship plan for Foxconn to follow, but only interviewed interns at Longhua (Shenzhen) to make sure the voluntary nature was known:
    http://www.fairlabor.org/sites/default/files/documents/reports/appendix1_interns_final.pdf

    Remediation:
    “Include procedures for “resignation” in the agreements signed with schools and students so that interns do not ever feel that they are working against their will.”

    Status as of June 30, 2012:
    “Updated tripartite internship agreement specifies that interns have the right to join and/or leave the program freely.

    Each factory engaging interns will deliver on-site training for students, in schools, explaining this particular clause, before they apply for the internship program at Foxconn.

    Verified through review of documents (tripartite agreement), random interviews with interns at Longhua, and interviews with management representatives directly responsible for managing the internship program.”

      1. allroads

        Unwarranted?

        Huh? the FLA on the FIRST DAY talked about how nice Foxconn was. They should have done their job, not Apple’s bidding… which was the entire issue that many had from day one about FLA’s involvement.

        R

        1. Stan Post author

          If they hadn’t visited this facility, and if they introduced protocols that were not followed, then I’m willing to cut them some slack. But I honestly don’t know enough to say one way or the other right now.

          1. allroads

            I would love to know your tipping point Stan.

            For me this was as big a fuck up as GW’s famous “mission accomplished” stunt,.. but that is just me.

          2. Stan Post author

            I just don’t know who was responsible for what, so I’m trying to be fair with limited information. Obviously Foxconn is ultimately responsible for all of this. If it does turn out that FLA knew or should have known, then yeah, they fucked up big time.

      2. allroads

        Legally, Foxconn (and many others) are not in compliance with local labor or environmental laws., but ultimately Apple is/ will be held responsible.

        It is their product launch will be impacted should gov’t shut down the factory, which will hit their bottom line. and should the Chinese consumers take up this issue as a reason to get all “aiguo” for their student comrades, it will again be a financial issue for Apple.

        In either case, Tim Cook will be hard pressed to say that he himself isn’t responsible given the fact that he set up the supply chain, and that he knew for 5+ years that their suppliers are out of compliance .. and at times unsafe

        Ok. I am done.

        R

  2. Marius Van Andel

    Contrarian:

    I don’t see anything wrong with students getting a look in the real world through an internship program that puts them, temporarily, on an assembly line.  All these bleeding hearts should get a life!  These students don’t know what work is in the first place.  They all think they should be bosses. They can’t  even write the word “work”. It is time that Chinese students wake up from their pampered existence where pappie and mommie fix all their problems.  I remember well the day that we thought it exciting to get that kind of experience and volunteered to do that kind of work for a lira/day.  This was before the sheckel was reintroduced.   If I had not done it, I still would not know what injection moulding is.  Thank you Arkal!  Chairman Mao was not all wrong when he suggested city slickers should find out how the countryside lives.  This is just a variation on an important theme.

    1. Gavin

      what you said has to be based on free will, which is also most rarest thing in China. Vacational schools have diploma to require compulsive intern in Foxconn.