A bizarre and troubling story has come from China today. Both The Shanghai Daily and the CNR News radio station have reported that up to several thousand Chinese students were pulled out of school and into Foxconn to "work on the iPhone 5." There appear to be two separate sources, one of which originated on the social network Sina Weibo. That source claimed that around 200 students from Huaiyin Institute of Technology were driven from their school to the Foxconn factory in Jiangsu in a sort of forced 'internship' program. The source, who claimed to be a student at the school, said the work began last Thursday. The student also said they are being paid a rate of 1,550 yuan (about $244) a month for six 12-hour days of work per week. The Shanghai Daily also reports it has corroborated the claims with "several" other students from at least five other colleges. The only Weibo post we can locate by the user, however, is quite vague, so it appears that The Shanghai Daily contacted her for further information.
Sina Weibo post
Foxconn's internship programs came under some fairly harsh criticism in the Fair Labor Association's Foxconn Investigation report, with interns found to be working much as employees, with long hours and sometimes lax documentation. The FLA document also specifically prescribed a set of changes that Foxconn should make to bring its internship program into compliance, but The Shanghai Daily reports that some schools had simply dropped the program altogether in the wake of the controversies.
A separate report on China National Radio claimed that some schools had even suspended classes for the next month or so in order to meet the internship's demands, and quoted an education official who seemed baffled that the program was up and running during the school year.
From our own research, however, it seems that the Jiangsu Foxconn factory, which is brand new, is not a manufacturing line where finished products are put together. The factory is a component manufacturing location, which raises questions as to how workers would know they were working on the iPhone 5, as they are certainly not assembling them there. Tim Cook visited an iPhone production line in Zhengzhou in March. Zhengzhou is a much larger factory which employs about 200,000 people. The Huai'an city factory employs around 35,000 workers.
A second report just issued from The Shanghai Daily now says that those students who were forcibly pulled from school to work at the factory (which is reportedly in dire need of workers), are now beginning to return to their studies. Those who applied for the internships voluntarily will be allowed to stay. This piece essentially confirms that students were in fact being pulled out of school to fill empty factory worker slots, and cites a city government official's statement that schools have been ordered to follow internship policies and "correct the violations." While the statement from the government did not clarify, confirm, or deny the allegations made by students, its reiteration of the guidelines has been interpreted as confirmation of the violations.
We have reached out to both Apple and Foxconn for comment and will update the article with more information as we get it.
Update: Foxconn has sent the following statement to us.
Foxconn has long had a short-term internship program that we carry out in cooperation with a number of vocational schools in China. Participants in the internship program, all of whom are of legal working age in China, represent an average of 2.7 percent of our workforce in China. The internship programs range in length from one to six months and students are free to leave the internship program at any time.
While we provide vocational schools with our qualification requirements, it is the schools that recruit the students under the supervision of the relevant local government and the schools also assign teachers to accompany and monitor the students throughout their internship program. In addition to allowing the students to gain relevant industry experience while earning the same industry-competitive compensation as our full-time entry-level workers, this program gives Foxconn an opportunity to identify participants in the internship program who have the potential to be excellent full-time employees should they wish to join our company upon graduation from their vocational school.
A recent audit of three of our facilities in China carried out by the Fair Labor Association confirmed that there was no evidence to indicate that any of the interns were pressured to participate in or to continue to participate in any internship program. A previous audit by the Fair Labor Association confirmed that students find their participation in this program valuable and that the positions offered by Foxconn were at compensation levels equivalent to entry-level full-time workers.