Amazon probe into illegal teen workforce

12 August 2019

Amazon is investigating the working practices of one of its key suppliers after it emerged that hundreds of teenagers have been working illegally at a factory in China.

Students have been made to work illegal hours in order to meet production targets on Amazon products such as the Echo Dot and Kindle, at the Hengyang Foxconn factory in Hunan province.  

Teenagers classed as “interns”, have been required to work overtime and nights in order to meet production targets for Amazon devices, according to leaked documents. 

Details of the scandal, uncovered by China Labor Watch, emerged in The Guardian last week and showed how students aged 16-18 had been drafted in from schools and colleges to work at the factory.

Foxconn recruited 1,581 interns in 2019. School teachers are paid by the factories to accompany the students and convince them to accept overtime on top of their shifts. 

Under Chinese labour laws, factories are able to employ students aged 16 and older, but they are not allowed to work nights or overtime.

Some students had been required to work at the factory for over two months to supplement staffing levels during peak production periods.

Campaigners discovered that interns were working 10 hours a day, including two hours of overtime, six days a week, with a number of students working night shifts.

Foxconn confirmed the students had been hired illegally said that it was taking action to ensure this does not happen again. 

It added it was monitoring the internship program with each partner school to ensure that “under no circumstances interns are allowed to work overtime or nights”.  

“There have been instances in the past where lax oversight on the part of the local management team has allowed this to happen and, while the impacted interns were paid the additional wages associated with these shifts, this is not acceptable and we have taken immediate steps to ensure it will not be repeated,” a Foxconn spokesperson said.

However, they defended the internship programme, which  “provides students, who are all of a legal working age, with the opportunity to gain practical work experience and on-the-job training”.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the company is “urgently investigating” the allegations and is holding weekly audits with Foxconn on the issue.

They added: “We do not tolerate violations of our Supplier Code of Conduct. We regularly assess suppliers, using independent auditors as appropriate, to monitor continued compliance and improvement - if we find violations, we take appropriate steps, including requesting immediate corrective action.”

This is not the first time that concerns have been raised about the Hengyang Foxconn plant. Last year it emerged that more than 40% of the staff there were agency workers - far higher than the legal maximum of 10% - and therefore not entitled to sick pay or holiday pay. The staff could also be laid off with immediate effect during lulls in production. 

In addition, those working overtime were only being paid the normal hourly rate instead of time-and-a-half which is required by Chinese law and by Amazon’s own supplier code of conduct.

In a statement at the time, Amazon said it had “immediately requested a corrective action plan from Foxconn Hengyang detailing their plan to remediate the issues identified” and said it would be conducting regular assessments to ensure compliance with its supplier code of conduct.

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