Schools In China Suspend Lessons While Students Make iPhone 5

Max ‘Beast from the East’ Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope.

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Foxconn employs “interns” to help staff shortage

University and college students from Huai’an in Jiangsu Province, China have had their lessons suspended so they can focus on “internships” at Foxconn factories manufacturing the upcoming iPhone 5, according to reports.

The practice could be violating Chinese higher education laws and labour laws. According to some of the students, Foxconn is facing a shortage of as many as 10,000 employees, as suppliers are racing to ship the smartphone, expected to be announced at an Apple press event on 12 September.

Making education work

According to Shanghai Daily, thousands of students, including those from departments of law, English and management, might have been forced to work at the Foxconn factory.

One of them, an unnamed girl attending a computing course at the Huaiyin Institute of Technology, said 200 students from her school were shipped off to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, for ¥1,550 (£153) a month. Just like all the other workers, the students have to pay for their own food and accommodation.

The girl wrote that it was the local authorities that ordered the schools to send students to assist Foxconn, without informing parents or signing appropriate employment contracts. She also said that her school went as far as to punish the students who had tried to leave the factory.

Teenagers from at least five other colleges have confirmed this story. At least one said that as the result of these “internships”, the studies were “seriously disrupted”.

The Huai’an Education Bureau told Shanghai Daily they were aware such programs ran during the summer break but did not know that schools had continued them into the new semester.

The summer “internships” are a common practice in China. “It’s hard for students to find jobs which are precisely related to their majors. Therefore, they are encouraged to go to factories to learn more about society,” an unnamed official told Shanghai Daily.

No smoke without fire

Way back in 2010, following suicides of eight Foxconn employees it was reported that the living and working conditions of Chinese factory workers were tantamount to slave labour. Steve Jobs had later denied the claims the company was running “sweatshops”. Nevertheless, Apple launched a campaign of inspections and made efforts to improve the life of people assembling its iPhones and iPads.

The issue was revisited this year, after journalist Mike Daisey’s one-man show “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” falsely claimed that Foxconn was employing children, and Apple knew about it.

In May, Apple agreed to help Foxconn pay for improving conditions at its factories. A month later, a new report by New York-based China Labor Watch claimed that working conditions at other Apple suppliers were “significantly more dire” than those at Foxconn. Meanwhile, another report actually found that the effort by Apple had the desired effect: three Foxconn factories were found to have improved conditions.

Apple’s chief rival Samsung also had problems with its Chinese partners. In August, the South Korean giant sent a team of inspectors to investigate claims that one of its suppliers, HEG Electronics, had been hiring underage workers.

Even though no child workers were found, Samsung demanded that HEG improve “potentially dangerous” working conditions. The company said it will continue with inspections of another 249 firms which make its products.

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