Ethical Performance
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No end to Foxconn doubts as factory halted by riot

October 2012

Apple's manufacturing partner Foxconn Technology has faced renewed criticism over labour practices after a 2,000-man brawl at a factory halted production and amid separate claims that students are being forced to work on its assembly lines.

More than 40 people were hospitalised by the disturbance – at a dormitary block in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, on 23 September – which took police four hours to bring under control. Simmering tensions between workers and Foxconn's security guards appear to have been a contributory factor.

China Labour Bulletin research director Geoffrey Crothall, speaking to Bloomberg Business Week, said reports that the harsh approach taken by the company's security guards contribted to last month's flashpoint “makes sense given what we know about the heavy-handed ways of the security apparatus at Foxconn”.

The incident came hard on the heels of claims by New York-based China Labor Watch that students were being misled into working at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou and told they would be unable to graduate if they left the company.

The use of vocational students in factories is common in China, and reports suggest that many have been taken on as part of a last-minute surge in iPhone 5 production in the run-up to its public launch on 12 September.

But Foxconn said in a statement that it has long operated a “short-term internship program”, and that the students – all of working age  – are free to leave whenever they like.

It said schools recruit the students under local government supervision and that, during an internship, teachers are assigned to “accompany and monitor” the students, who are paid the same wages as full-time entry-level workers.

Chinese state media reported that hundreds of students were supplied by several vocational schools in the city of Huai'an, Jiangsu province, to ease staff shortages at Foxconn.

And the China Daily newspaper carried allegations that students studying English and trainee primary school teachers were being made to assemble iPhone 5 USB cables as a compulsory part of their university courses. Students, it reported, were told that they will not receive enough credit to graduate at the end of their course if they left.

The latest troubles to afflict Foxconn comes as the company had appeared to be making serious efforts to improve working conditions at its factories. A report by the Fair Labor Organisation, based on an audit between June 25 to July 6, appeared to confirm this.

Though there were still 165 actions to be addressed by July 2013, staff working time had reduced to 60 hours a week, including overtime. However, the legal limit in China is 49 hours and the audits did not include its manufacturing base at Zhengzhou.

Foxconn | Asia | Human rights

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