You may already be aware of a report (available in English in the Shanghai Daily, among other places) that suggests Apple-and-everyone-else-supplier Foxconn was employing “interns” that turned out to be college students who had been forced to participate in the work. From the Shanghai Daily:
A student majoring in computing at the Huaiyin Institute of Technology said 200 students from her school had been driven to the factory.
They started work on the production line last Thursday and were being paid 1,550 yuan (US$243.97) a month for working six days a week, she said.
But they had to pay hundreds of yuan for food and accommodation, she said in an online post under the name of mengniuIQ84.
Several other students from at least five colleges backed up what she said, saying they were being forced to work for 12 hours a day.
That’s bad enough, but the story gets even worse if what some of the students are saying is true. According to mengniuIQ84, local authorities ordered schools to provide the students as “interns” to offset a worker shortage at Foxconn. It’s unclear the extent to which Foxconn and the local government was involved in the “internship” plans, but the reasons for the labor shortage? Foxconn needed more bodies to keep up with Apple’s iPhone 5 production as the device rolls toward its likely official launch later this month. So yeah, that shiny new iPhone 5 you’re planning on buying in a couple weeks might well have been constructed in part by forced student labor.
Facing increased media scrutiny, some schools have already pulled out their students and resumed classes. But not every school is admitting wrongdoing. The Jiangsu Finance and Economics Technical College, for example, has pulled its current batch of “interns” back into classes according to this report. But it had originally been planning to send two additional groups of students to work in the factory; it’s not clear whether those students will still be forced to go or not.
Sadly, this kind of forced internship is not uncommon at Chinese universities, especially technical colleges and lower-ranked schools that are more concerned with collecting tuition payments and other fees than they are about offering students a decent education. Government and school officials have suggested that the internship programs are about broadening students’ horizons and giving them practical job skills. But since many of the students sent to Foxconn have majors like English — majors totally unrelated to work in a high-tech factory — it’s hard to see what the value of this experience would be for most students.
But it works out great for schools — who still get to collect tuition payments — and for Foxconn, which gets cheap bodies to fill spots on the production line to ensure that your iPhone 5 isn’t late to the party later this month. Hurray.