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.