Quanta Computer, a Fortune 500 company whose factories in China produce electronic devices and hardware for a number of tech-giants across the word — including Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Sony, to name a few — has come under fire for reportedly exploiting young Chinese students to work in its factories as cheap labor.
According to a recently released report by SACOM, a Hong Kong-based no-profit, the factories recruit Chinese students on vocational courses to assemble different machines as part of their “internship.” These teenagers and young adults work more than 12 hours everyday and are unable to leave, as the schools reportedly threaten to hold back their diplomas if they quit.
“The operation of the factory is very much relying on student interns. More than 60 percent of the workers in the factory are students,” a mid-level manager in Quanta Chongqing told the researchers. “Quanta is cooperating with local vocational schools to arrange student interns to work in the factory. Student interns are good because they are flexible. It takes only a few weeks to order those students from the schools. The factory doesn’t want to keep too many regular workers as it gets far fewer orders during low seasons. You can’t easily fire workers if they are regular employees, but you can tell the interns to leave at almost any time.”
To put it simply, these poor interns are treated as slave labor, or so it seems.
The undercover researchers also found out how the factory forced young interns to work for 12 straight hours and even assigned overtime work or night shifts. The pattern continued for three months and the workers were not allowed to take a single day off.
Some of these student workers were hired through recruitment agencies, something that is prohibited by Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Standards as well as the Chinese labor laws.
“We really don’t want to continue the internship but the recruitment agency wants us to stay,” revealed a 19-year-old student worker. “They want us to work for at least three months or they will not be able to get the recruitment commission from the factory.”
The students were also forced to pay illegal deposits.
“We had to pay 200 yuan ($30) when we started working at the factory. 75 yuan was for a physical examination and 125 yuan was for the deposit,” said another worker. “There were nearly 1,000 students who started working at the same time, and we all had to pay deposits. [The agency] told us they would not return our deposits if we resigned within three months.”
According to the Administrative Provisions of Internships for Vocational School Students clauses in China, students should only intern in the fields related to their majors. Sadly, that is not the case for many young adults reportedly working in these electronic factories.
“Among the nine students we interviewed, only four of them had majors related to electronics. The other five students majored in accounting (one student), early education (one student), hotel management (one student), fashion design (one student), and automobile repair (two students),” the report stated. “Assigning them to work on production lines for electronic devices not only wasted their time, but also deprived them of the opportunity to participate in real internships related to their majors.”
Even the students majoring in electronics said they did not learn anything from inserting screws into laptop bodies for three months on end. Moreover, none of the students received any special training before they started working. In fact, they did the same jobs and performed the same repetitive tasks for the entire duration of their internship.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the researchers also discovered none of the students had applied voluntarily for the so-called internship programs. Apparently, their school assigned their positions in the factory and simply notified them, giving them no choice in the matter.
“We were forced to come. If we refused, our status would be demoted to that of ‘self-funded students’ (the school would no longer cover dining and accommodation expenses),” an 18-year-old student explained. “Every semester our school recruits new students but our campus is small. When they don’t have enough space in the classrooms and dormitories, they start forcing students to do internships and let the new students stay in our dorms.”
Meanwhile, in an email to the Guardian, Quanta Computer denied the allegations.
“After internal verification, we believe that the allegations … are untrue and unfair to the company. There are serious mistakes in the information … from the ‘undercover investigators,’” the company said.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Stringer