Amazon investigating alleged illegal child labour at Chinese Foxconn facility

12 Aug 2019198 Views

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Amazon says it is investigating allegations that schoolchildren were recruited at one of its supplier’s factories and forced to work strenuous amounts of overtime.

Amazon has said that it is investigating allegations of child exploitation at a Foxconn factory that produces Kindle and Echo devices.

China Labour Watch (CLW), a New York-based non-profit group, leaked documents to The Guardian detailing how teenagers as young as 16 were drafted in from schools and technical colleges in and around the city of Hengyang in southern China to work at a Foxconn factory. The facility allegedly forced staff to work “excessive overtime, among other rights violations” in order to meet production targets.

The children are classified, the report says, as “interns” and their teachers are paid by the factory to accompany them. These teachers are asked to encourage pupils to work nights and overtime on top of their regular shifts.

CLW said that it first investigated the facility in 2018 and that both Amazon and Foxconn had pledged that they would make improvements to the factory’s working conditions. “However, CLW’s 2019 investigation found that Foxconn’s working conditions have deteriorated,” the group said.

According to the report, teachers who were encouraged to keep interns in line “often physically and verbally attack [them], and on 30 July, many workers witnessed a teacher hitting an intern”. The schools from which the interns originated were also given a stipend for every hour an intern worked.

Workers, the report says, have to work between 60 and 80 overtime hours a month and between 80 and 140 overtime hours a month during peak season. Workers receive one day off per week though the report alleges that some workers got as little as two days off per month during peak season.

Additionally, the report claims that proportion of interns from vocational schools at the Hengyang facility far exceeds the legal limits. There are, CLW says, 7,435 workers at the Foxconn factory in total, 1,581 of which are interns. At more than 21pc of the workforce, this is more than double the allowed limit of 10pc as set out in China’s labour laws.

Investigation

According to internal documents CLW reportedly accessed, the group said that Amazon “may have known about the issue regarding Foxconn’s illegal recruitment of dispatch workers”.

“According to an internal document, Foxconn mentions they will try to reach an agreement with Amazon about allowing dispatch workers exceed 10pc of the workforce during peak season,” CLW said.

In response to this claim, a spokesperson for Amazon told Siliconrepublic.com: “This is not accurate. We have not discussed with Foxconn, nor have we approved, any plans to violate labour standards.”

CLW’s executive director Li Qiang said that Foxconn “still recruits a high number of dispatch workers and interns as a means to cut labour costs”, noting that “China’s labour laws are also not strictly enforced”.

An Amazon spokesperson said: “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.”

Foxconn could not be reached for comment at time of publication, but said in a statement to The Guardian: “We have doubled the oversight and monitoring of the internship programme with each relevant partner school to ensure that, under no circumstances, will interns [be] 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.”

Foxconn defended the use of schoolchildren at its facility, however, claiming that it provides students of legal working age “with the opportunity to gain practical work experience and on-the-job training in a number of areas that will support their efforts to find employment following their graduation.”

Updated, 9.55am, 14 August 2019: This article was amended to include further comment from Amazon.

Amazon building in Santa Clara, California. Image: wolterke/Depositphotos.

Eva Short is a Journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com