Chinese students are being forced to undertake gruelling internships at a factory producing IT equipment that is used in UK universities, according to campaigners.
In a report People & Planet and Danish research organisation DanWatch said students as young as 15 were forced to work on assembly lines making servers for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week for up to five months as part of internship programmes.
The organisations said students were threatened their diplomas would be withheld if they did not complete the work, violating Chinese law and International Labour Organization rules.
The investigation took place at a factory run by Wistron Corporation in Zhongshan, China, which produces servers for manufacturers including HP, Dell and Lenovo.
The report said European educational institutions spent £3.14 billion on hardware, software and IT services in 2015.
Campaigners are calling for universities to join Electronics Watch and students will be taking part in a day of action across Europe on 7 October. The University of Leicester became the latest institution to join the worker rights monitoring group last week.
Jim Cranshaw, a campaigner for People & Planet, said: “It's truly shocking that students here in the UK are using computers and servers made by students as young as 15, forced to labour, in China.
“Students are calling on universities to use their contracts to insist that suppliers improve conditions by joining Electronics Watch, a workers' rights monitoring organisation set up by NGOs for this purpose.”
After being presented with the findings HP and Dell acknowledged several violations of interns’ working conditions and temporarily suspended the use of student interns at the Wistron factory.
Lenovo said an audit at the factory in August found labour violations with regard to student internships. "Lenovo made clear to the team at Wistron that future violations of labour laws or the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition code of conduct would not be tolerated. A subsequent unannounced visit in September showed no evidence of continued violations," said the company, adding that further audits would take place.
Wistron Corporation said students in the study had “misunderstandings about their choices regarding school programmes” and the company would “ask for their feedback to confirm their willingness to join any programmes at our company”.