Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Foxconn Technology Group said its interns in China are free to leave the program at any time after local newspapers reported that students from vocational schools were forced to make USB cables for Apple Inc.’s new iPhone.
A recent audit of three Foxconn facilities in China carried out by the Fair Labor Association found no evidence that any interns were pressured to participate, Foxconn said in an e-mailed statement today.
The company responded to reports in China Daily and Beijing News that vocational students in the eastern province of Jiangsu were told they had to work at a local Foxconn plant in order to receive academic credits. The interns earned a basic salary of 1,550 yuan ($244) a month and had to work overtime if they didn’t finish their daily tasks, China Daily reported, citing students it didn’t identify with full names.
A woman identified as Wang Yan said she couldn’t understand why her 19-year-old daughter, who is majoring in preschool education, was sent to produce USB cables, China Daily reported. The newspaper cited the daughter, identified only as Song, as saying she couldn’t get the credits needed to graduate if she refused the internship.
Foxconn invested more than $210 million to establish new production lines for Apple components in the city of Huai’an, the China Daily reported. Now the plant is “short-staffed” as it works to fill orders related to Apple’s new handset, the newspaper reported, citing a Foxconn official it didn’t identify.
Apple on Sept. 12 will hold a product event in San Francisco, where it’s expected to unveil a redesigned iPhone.
Carolyn Wu, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for Apple, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment. A news department official for the Huai’an city government, declining to give her name, said she wasn’t able to comment.
Foxconn, which also makes Apple’s iPad, has internship programs ranging from one to six months in length with “a number of” vocational schools in China, the company said in the e-mailed statement.
“Students are free to leave the internship program at any time,” Foxconn said, adding that the interns represent an average of 2.7 percent of its China workers.
The Beijing News cited the Huai’an government as saying in a statement that all internships organized by vocational schools must be based on the willingness of students, and the schools should immediately rectify any violations. All students who didn’t want to work at the Foxconn plant returned to their schools, the government was cited as saying.
The newspapers didn’t say when the students worked at the factory.
Calls to Huai’an Broadcasting and Television University and Jiangsu Food Science College, identified by the Beijing News as having sent interns to Foxconn’s plant, went unanswered today. A man who answered the main line at Jiangsu Polytechnic of Finance and Economics, who declined to give his name, said students returned to the school a day after the internship started.
Foxconn’s labor policies have been the subject of past criticism. A Fair Labor Association audit of Foxconn plants working for Apple in March found “serious and pressing” violations of Chinese labor laws, prompting the biggest maker of Apple devices to pledge to cut working hours and give employees more oversight. Assessors found cases of employees working longer hours and more days in a row than allowed by FLA standards and Chinese law.
The commitment to cut worker hours while keeping pay the same means Foxconn will need to recruit “tens of thousands of extra workers” in the next year, the FLA said in the March report. The association said last month that Foxconn was ahead of schedule to improve conditions, while work hours exceeded targets and legal mandates.
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