High tech maker Foxconn has gone on the offensive over new claims that its workforce in China are being exploited and even physically abused.

In an emailed statement to eWEEK Europe UK, Foxconn said that it “strongly and categorically rejects reports in the Chinese and international media that are attributed to research by academics and students alleging worker abuse, illegal labour practices, and unsafe working conditions at our operations in China.”

The Foxconn response was in reaction to new allegations that came from a leaked report, picked up by Chinese newspapers.

Study Claims

Earlier this week, the Beijing-based Global Times newspaper, reported on a leaked study conducted by academics including students and teachers. Fourteen investigators were apparently able to “enter the company and experience ‘life inside Foxconn’ themselves.”

The study alleged that insiders found a number of illegal activities including the abuse of interns, overly strict training and harsh punishments, as well as the turning of a blind eye to safety problems in the workplace and unreal salary hikes.

The Global Times newspaper cited the fact that, under Chinese law, interns are only allowed to work eight hours per day. However, the study apparently found that in some plants interns worked 10-hour shifts, and in some cases were forced to work night shifts.

The leaked report also said that interns were abused at the plants of Shenzhen, Kunshan, Taiyuan, Wuhan and Shanghai. In some cases, interns made up 50 percent of all the plants’ employees.

And 16.4 percent of workers claimed they were subjected to some kind of corporal violence.

Unsubstantiated Allegations

However this version of events has been strongly refuted by Foxconn, which said that it is committed to a safe and positive working environment.

“We are responding to the media coverage because we believe it is important to correct these unsubstantiated allegations,” said the company.

“Foxconn is certainly not perfect, but we take our responsibility to our employees very seriously and we are committed to giving each and every one of our more than 937,000 employees in China a safe and positive working environment and compensation and benefits that are competitive with all of our industry peers,” it added.

Intern Rebuttal

Foxconn also then issued a point-by-point rebuttal of a number of specific allegations made in the leaked report, including minimum wage increases, overtime, workplace safety, and the use of student interns.

On the interns issue it said that “like many of our industry peers, Foxconn cooperates with accredited vocational and technical schools in China to provide short-term on-the-job training for their students who are aged 16 years and above.”

“While these training programmes are administered by the individual schools, who remain responsible for general insurance coverage for the trainees, Foxconn does provide a full package of compensation and benefits during these internship periods,” said the company. This includes housing and meals and medical and accident coverage for all trainees.

“Foxconn compensation levels for interns are equivalent to that of the basic workers and higher than the government regulated levels and the average internship period is between two and six months.”

“Interns currently comprise 7.6 percent of our total employee population in China and at no time has this percentage ever exceeded 15 percent, even during the summer peak seasons when more students want to enroll in the internship program. Interns are not allowed to engage in any job that is classified as dangerous or hazardous,” it said.

Troubled Past

Foxconn makes products for a number of tech companies including Dell, HP, and of course Apple. There is little doubt that the company has been dogged with controversy over the high number of suicides among its workforce.

However Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and Dell have all conducted investigations and have given the company a clean bill of health. Indeed, in June Apple chief executive Steve Jobs dismissed claims that Foxconn was a sweatshop.

And there is little doubt that Foxconn has taken steps to improve matters. In May it agreed to raise the wages of its workers by 20 percent, despite the reports that the Taiwanese company had considered closing its mainland Chinese plants.

And the company is now seeking to draw a line under these issues with a promise to fix any problems brought to its attention.

“Our company policy requires that all management and supervisory staff treat our employees and interns with the highest level of respect and we have formal grievance procedures that all employees can use should they have any issues with any aspect of their treatment by anyone associated with Foxconn or any other matter related to their employment,” the company insisted in its statement. “These procedures are in place and they have been shown to be effective in resolving issues that have been raised in the past.”

It promised to address any issues that are brought to its attention and “any violations will be immediately rectified.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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