Just as Apple unveils the iPhone 5, its Chinese manufacturer, Foxconn Technology, is once again plagued with labor concerns. This time, the accusation is that it forced student interns to assemble iPhones, according to the New York Times.
Chinese state media reported several schools in the eastern city of Huai’an were closed so that hundreds of students could work on assembly lines to make up for worker shortages. About 32,000 students work in Foxconn factories, and shifts can last up to 12 hours. Though the company says students are free to go at any time, interns that spoke with labor advocacy groups said that was not the case and that their teachers forced them to work there. Students were told they would not graduate unless they worked and that it was “a good way to experience corporate culture.”
Labor advocates say Foxconn is under tremendous pressure to fill huge numbers of orders for devices like the iPhone 5 and that deadlines can only be met by adding workers. And Foxconn has a long history of labor abuses, which ThinkProgress has addressed before. Multiple investigations into its practices over the last few years — some of them commissioned directly by Apple — have found “illegal amounts of overtime, crowded working conditions, under-age workers, improper disposal of hazardous waste and, in some cases, industrial accidents.”
In 2010, an undercover report found:
New employees must sign a voluntary affidavit committing to between 60 and 100 hours of overtime each month — far more than the legal limit of 36 hours.
Workers claimed they stood so long their legs swelled up and they had difficulty walking.
Employees face more serious harm than swelled legs, however. Two explosions within 7 months at Foxconn factories killed four people and injured almost 80 in 2010. Employees also face serious health risks, and 137 were injured when they were forced to clean iPads with toxic chemicals. Perhaps not surprisingly, as many as 17 Foxconn employees committed suicide over the last five years — a trend that got so bad the company chairman sought the help of an exorcist.
Though years of bad press prompted some improvements, including reduced hours and higher pay, Foxconn’s work environment apparently remains “military-like,” and Apple is still relying on it to deliver the iPhone 5 successfully.