A Taiwanese electronics manufacturer in China known for assembling products for U.S. computer firm Apple put as many as 200 interns as young as 14 years of age to work on its fabrication lines, according to reports Tuesday.
Foxconn Technology Group said that it had discovered the underage workers during an internal investigation of its Yantai plant in eastern China’s Shandong province and that the 14-16 year old workers had been hired from local vocational schools. The minimum working age in China is 16.
"This is not only a violation of China's labor law, it is also a violation of Foxconn policy and immediate steps have been taken to return the interns in question to their educational institutions," the company said in a widely reported statement.
"We are also carrying out a full investigation, in cooperation with the respective educational institutions, to determine how this happened and the actions that must be taken by our company to ensure that it can never happen again."
Foxconn, which is owned by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., manufactures products including the iPad, iPhone, iPod, Kindle, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 for American, European and Japanese electronics and information technology firms.
On Wednesday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that Foxconn had returned 56 underage interns to their vocational schools in Yantai.
Foxconn’s admission came hours after rights group China Labor Watch (CLW) issued a statement saying it had confirmed that workers under the age of 16 had been employed at the plant over the summer. CLW said it counted around 200 underage workers at the plant.
Foxconn’s statement also came one month after the company denied reports in the Chinese media that it had forced vocational students to work in plants manufacturing iPhones.
The company has been under intense pressure to produce enough units of the iPhone 5 after Apple released the new smartphone last month. It had reportedly sought help from local governments in finding workers to alleviate severe labor shortages at its plants.
"Foxconn has long had a short-term internship program that we carry out in cooperation with a number of vocational schools and other educational institutions in China," the company said.
"The internship programs range from three to six months in duration with the average being 3.5 months. Interns represent approximately 2.7 percent of our workforce of 1.2 million employees in China."
Foxconn owns 13 factories in nine Chinese cities, though a company spokesman said Wednesday that the discovery of underage workers at the Yantai facility was an isolated event.
The electronics manufacturer has come under fire in recent years for labor disputes, riots, and employee suicides, largely over working conditions.
Foxconn has brought in third-party auditors, such as the Fair Labor Association, at the behest of its clients and now pays some of the highest wages for factory laborers in the country.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.