Apple supplier Foxconn hid underage workers before inspection, says labor rights NGO

Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer that Apple heavily relies on for its products, may have tried to clean up its act before inspectors from the Fair Labor Association descended on its factories, according to a Hong Kong non-governmental organization dedicated to workers rights.

Foxconn allegedly pushed underage employees out of sight before the FLA inspection, Debby Sze Wan Chan, a project officer from Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), tells AppleInsider.

“All underage workers, between 16-17 years old, were not assigned any overtime work and some of them were even sent to other departments,” workers from the Foxconn factories reportedly told Chan.

Apple’s supplier code of conduct allows for factories to employ workers aged 16 to 18, but they’re also supposed to receive additional protections:

Preventing underage labor is only part of our efforts. We also monitor the treatment of workers who are old enough to work legally but are younger than 18. We don’t allow these workers to perform some types of work, even in cases where local laws allow it. Our standards also require factories to adhere to student labor laws and to ensure that schools and universities follow the laws as well, which is particularly important as factories increasingly turn to these institutions for student interns.

We’ve asked both Apple and the FLA for further comment and will update when we hear back.

Let’s be clear: SACOM isn’t alleging that Foxconn is hiding workers under 16, which would be a major child labor issue. Instead, the group says the supplier simply moved slightly older workers around to avoid scrutiny from the FLA. It makes sense for Foxconn to shape up in preparation for a highly publicized inspection, the real question is how these 16- to 18-year-old employees are treated once the spotlights disappear.

Last night’s ABC Nightline report gave us our best glimpse yet into Foxconn’s inner workings. The FLA, meanwhile, is still conducting its inspection of the factories. FLA president Auret van Heerden called Foxconn’s factories “first class” last week in an initial statement, but he also noted that there were many issues that needed to be solved.

Speaking about the overall atmosphere at the factories, Chan recounted one of her recent trips to AppleInsider, “The workers always tell us they resemble machines. Their regular day at Foxconn is waking up, queuing up for baths and work, work and go back to the dormitory and sleep. They do not have a social life and they are doing the same monotonous task in the factory for thousands of times a day. If they are not efficient enough or they make some mistakes, they will be yelled at by their supervisor or punished.”

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