This is not going to play well around the world in places where China’s employment practices are seen as fountains of unfairly cheap labour. Officials in Yantai in Shandong have removed 56 schoolchildren working as interns from a Foxconn factory in the city. China’s labour laws specifies 16 as the minimum working age. The interns were between 14 and 16.
How they got there is the question. Hon Hai Precision, Foxconn’s Taiwanese parent, says its Yantai factory asked the local development zone for help in covering a severe labour shortage last month. The interns were supplied by the development zone from local vocational schools. This Bystander suspects that blind eyes were turned on both sides as children turned up among the thousands of other legal-aged temporary workers supplied to do the tedious and waring work on production lines. And before you ask, no, it doesn’t make iPhones or any other Apple gizmos there; it produces Nintendo Wii gamepads.
Hon Hai says employing underage interns is a violation of its own policies as well as China’s labour laws. It says an internal investigation has turned up no further cases of underage interns working in its factories. It will let interns of legal working age leave if they so choose. Its interns don’t work for free but are paid a fraction of a regular wage.
We do know of a previous case where local officials in Henan were given targets by their township to recruit staff to Foxconn factories there, with their work performance judged according to whether they fulfilled their quotas. But once bitten twice shy. We suspect that the Yantai case will result in some exemplary punishments. We’ll be looking to see whose are the harshest, the company’s or the authorities’, and, if the later, from what level they are handed out.