Amazon to investigate child labour claims against China supplier

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Tech giant Amazon will investigate its Chinese supplier Foxconn after reports suggested that it resorted to child labor by hiring schoolchildren and forced them into night shifts and overtime work to meet production targets.

The school children were inducted in production lines that were making Amazon Alexa devices including smart speakers.

The teenagers worked at overtime and night shifts to attain production quotas for Amazon's Echo, Echo Dot, and Kindle products.

The leaked documents about the Amazon news, accessed by the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, said the school children faced hard working conditions, petty pay and high pressure from school authorities to comply.

Chinese labor law allows the employment of juvenile workers aged between 16 and 18. But they should not be working in night shifts or overtime.

More than 1,000 juvenile workers were employed at Foxconn's Hengyang facility, the Guardian reported.

The documents were leaked to the labor rights group China Labor Watch and shared with the Guardian.

Amazon promises strict action

A spokesperson for Amazon said it has mechanisms in place to assess suppliers using independent auditors.

"If we find violations, we take appropriate steps, including immediate corrective action," the Amazon official said.

Amazon said it is investigating the allegations and has taken up the matter with Foxconn at the most senior level and audits on this issue are on.

Foxconn also confirmed to CNBC that it was alerted about labor law violations at its Hengyang factory in Southern China and steps are being taken to correct any mistakes.

But the company defended the use of schoolchildren on the ground that "it provides practical work experience and on-the-job training to find employment following their graduation."

The Guardian report revealed that the company deployed teenage schoolchildren at factories in the guise of interns.

The report said the company coordinates with teachers and schools are paid for supplying teenage student labor.

Teachers also get paid to accompany children to work and they have to persuade "uncooperative" students to take up additional overtime work.

Foxconn calls it internship

Foxconn Technology Group told CNBC that the company had been running a short-term internship program in partnership with local governments and vocational schools in China where workers are paid "competitive" salaries and benefits.

But the documents said many of the children had to work in night shifts and overtime to produce the smart-speaker devices in violation of the Chinese labor laws.

Overtime work forced on a female student

One teenager who worked in the Foxconn factory said the work she did had no relevance to the course and had to work overtime.

Xiao Fang, 17, (name changed) worked at the factory making Amazon Echo. She had the task of applying a protective film to 3,000 Echo Dots per day and was forced to work overtime. Her protests were quelled.

"I told the manager that I didn't want to work overtime. But the manager notified my teacher who later warned me that if overtime is refused, I cannot intern at Foxconn and my graduation applications at the school will be in peril", the female student added.

Expressing shock at the report, Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, urged both Amazon and Foxconn to allow independent monitoring of working conditions in the supplier's factory to check the abuse of labor laws. Foxconn is one of the suppliers of Apple as well.

This article was first published in IBTimes US. Permission required for reproduction.