Foxconn allegedly exploits 'interns' for labour

US investigators who have been visiting Foxconn’s Chinese plants seem to be keen on giving the factory the thumbs up.

It has already been reported that after two days on one site, the independent NGO says that the plant is “better than others” operating in China. Of course that does not explain why so many Foxconn staff have been so keen to exit via the roof.

But more information is coming out about the Foxconn operation which might be a little harder for the US NGO to see, if they do not know what to ask.

Motherboard Vice claims to have found another of Foxconn’s dirty secret. Foxconn is using interns who are forced to work at the plant in return for their education qualification with ultra low salaries, and little employee rights.

It highlights the case of Liu Jiang, who was supposed to have a summer internship at the factory as a student at the Dongfang Vocational School of Technology in the northern city of Shijiazhuang.

After a month, the 18 year old climbed onto the roof of his six-story dormitory and killed himself.

According to Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, Foxconn may be running “the world’s single largest internship program – and one of the most exploitative.”

Liu’s internship would have included housing, food, and half the salary of the normal factory worker. He was supposed to get hands-on education but, in fact, he was just another worker.

Foxconn allegedly has 180,000 interns during the summer months so that Apple, Amazon, and HP gadgets are ready for the Christmas market.

The Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) thinks that the number is much higher, and that interns have at times made up as much as a third of the company’s 1.3-million-strong workforce.

So far, the intern question has not been looked at by anyone. SACOM reports that interns tend to fall into a class of indirect workers, for whom Foxconn is not directly responsible for their well being.

SACOM said that they usually work longer hours than regular workers. If there is an inspection or auditing from these companies, these workers are told to leave the building until the inspection is over.

The watchdog said that vocational students, including those studying journalism, tourism, and languages, have had practically no choice but to participate in such internships if they want to graduate from their schools. Because they are temporary workers, they have little legal protection and if they complain, they could jeopardise their diplomas.

SACOM has written to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook saying that the use of students is a form of involuntary labour, which is supposedly prohibited by Apple.

Apple’s most recent 27-page Supplier Responsibility Report, however, makes no mention of student internships – and the problem was not mentioned in the recent New York Times stories which have triggered Apple’s sudden interest in Foxconn’s conditions.