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Foxconn Denies Exploiting Student Interns

Foxconn Denies Exploiting Student Interns

Apple supplier Foxconn is under scrutiny again for its labor practices. Media reports in China accuse the manufacturer of using unpaid interns on manufacturing lines. The company asserts, however, that students are gaining valuable vocational experience working for the company, which is a contract manufacturer for many technology firms, including Apple.

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
09/12/12 9:27 AM PT

On the eve of Apple's expected introduction of its new iPhone, one of the company's major overseas manufacturing partners, Foxconn, has been accused yet again of labor abuses.

This time reports appearing in Chinese media maintain that Foxconn is forcing vocational students to work on assembly lines, some of which are used to produce iPhones.

Foxconn is denying that students are being coerced to work on its assembly lines. In a statement emailed to MacNewsWorld, the company explained that it has long had a short-term internship program carried out in cooperation with a number of vocational schools in China.

Participants in the internship program, all of whom are of legal working age in China, represent an average of 2.7 percent of the workforce in China, it said. The internship programs range in length from one to six months and students are free to leave the internship program at any time.

Valuable Experience?

Foxconn added that a recent audit of three of its facilities in China carried out by the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an independent watchdog organization, confirmed that there was no evidence to indicate that any of the interns were pressured to participate in or to continue to participate in any internship program.

A previous audit by the association confirmed that students find their participation in the program valuable and that the positions offered by Foxconn were at compensation levels equivalent to entry-level full-time workers, the company added.

Apple did not respond to our request for comment on this story.

While it is common for manufacturers to use students in their factories, Foxconn uses more of them as a percentage of their factory workforce that other manufacturers, Li Quang, of China Labor Watch, told MacNewsWorld through a translator.

He explained that students attending schools that have deals with Foxconn have no choice but to work at the company if they want to graduate. Reportedly, the schools receive US$100 for every student they place at a Foxconn facility.

Made In America

Foxconn produces high-tech products for a number of companies, but when news breaks about labor abuses by the manufacturer, reports almost never fail to mention the iPhone assembler's relationship with Apple. "Apple's number one," Bob O'Donnell, an analyst with IDC, told MacNewsWorld. "Everybody goes after number one."

Nevertheless, Apple's demands on manufacturers play a role in why it's called out in stories about seedy labor practices by its overseas partners, maintained Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group.

"Apple is one of the most aggressive vendors when it comes to driving lower price, which means if you're going to have an area where the workers are put under significant pressure it will be connected to Apple because Apple is demanding the same services at ever lower prices going forward," he reasoned.

Bad public relations probably played a role in Apple persuading Foxconn to open factories producing products for the American company to voluntary audits by the FLA. There are those, though, that argue Apple should seek a simpler solution to its Foxconn woes.

"It is time for Apple to bring its manufacturing back to California," Trip Chowdhry, managing director for equity research with Global Equities Research. "Foxconn has numerous issues and it's just taking the shine out of Apple."

Love Of Shiny Things

It remains to be seen, however, whether the steady stream of negative labor news emanating from Foxconn will have an effect on Apple's gadget sales.

"These things have become an almost steady stream at this point," O'Donnell observed, "and I don't think they make a huge difference."

"The bottom line is that Apple will sell a lot of iPhones this weekend," O'Donnell predicted.

Added Enderle, "We're a nation that likes our shiny things."


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