If reports in the Chinese press are to be believed, Sony’s next-gen games console may be being assembled using some very outdated labor practices. According to Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily, thousands of students from an IT engineering program at the Xi’an Institute of Technology are being forced to work at Foxconn’s Yantai plant assembling the Sony Playstation 4. Students have been told if they refuse to participate, they lose six course credits, which effectively means they will not be able to graduate.
Officially, the program is considered an “internship” and it is publicly recognized and promoted by the school. But students have said that once they got to Foxconn, they were assigned to jobs that had no relation whatsoever to their fields of study, including grunt work like distribution and shipping. One student, for example, majored in finance and accounting but has been assigned to a job that entails glueing together parts of Sony’s Playstation 4. Another was assigned to a job that entails peeling of the PS4’s protective plastic and putting stickers on it. Still another, a computer science major, puts the PS4’s various cords and the instruction manual into the console’s box. Moreover, students say that their working hours are exactly the same as regular workers. The only difference is that unlike the workers, the students aren’t there voluntarily.
Foxconn told the Oriental Daily that its workers are all voluntary and that it has no interest in preventing them from leaving work if they choose to. The Xi’an Institute of Technology declined to comment on whether the university had received an agent’s fee for providing student labor to the Foxconn plant and did not directly answer questions about whether or not the internship program was forced, but stressed that it was legal and that it was “mainly about making students learn about society and experience life.”
This is not the first time Foxconn has been involved in a controversial and apparently compulsory internship program. In fact, a story involving Foxconn and this exact same college (the Xi’an Institute of Technology) emerged last year, too. In the media reporting on that scandal, a school official told the press that the school was paid 100 RMB per student (about $16) for each student intern it provided. The school has not commented on whether or not it was paid by Foxconn this time around, but if it was paid according to that fee scale, it likely netted somewhere in the area of $16,000 from the program.
Whether or not this kind of “internship” is technically legal, it definitely makes you feel a little icky about the launch of the upcoming PS4. It looks like an exciting console, but when people start unboxing them later this fall, I’ll be wondering how many of those consoles were packaged and shipped by students who were essentially forced to work long hours with no real alternatives.
Update 10/10: I’ve removed a reference to the students not being paid, as it’s not entirely clear how they are compensated. I’ve also added some information about Foxconn offering per-student kickbacks to schools in previous cases like this.
(Oriental Daily via Tencent Games)