Apple’s suppliers are allegedly skirting China’s labor laws to make the iPhone X

We’ve been here before.
We’ve been here before.
Image: Bobby Yip/Reuters
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Apple has hit more than one snag in the production of its recently launched iPhone X.

A Financial Times investigation (paywall) published today revealed that Apple’s main supplier in Asia, Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn, has been employing student interns working overtime illegally to assemble the iPhone X, as Apple struggles to meet production goals.

Six students, among a group of 3,000 interns from Zhengzhou Urban Rail Transit School, told the Financial Times that they routinely work 11-hour days on the assembly line in a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, China. The investigation didn’t mention how many days the students are required to work but stated that their hours violated Chinese law, which prohibits student interns from working more than 40 hours per week. The students, aged 17 to 19, said that they were being “forced” to complete the three-month internship as a requirement for graduation.

“The work has nothing to do with our studies,” Ms Yang, an 18-year-old student training to be a train attendant, told the publication. Yang asked not to use her first name for fear of retaliation.

An Apple representative told Quartz that the Financial Times’ reporting is inaccurate and noted that the students participate in the internship voluntarily. The interns also constitute “a very small percentage of the workforce,” the representative said.

“During the course of a recent audit, we discovered instances of student interns working overtime at a supplier facility in China. We’ve confirmed the students worked voluntarily, were compensated and provided benefits, but they should not have been allowed to work overtime,” the Apple representative wrote in an email. “A team of specialists is on site at the facility working with the management on systems to ensure the appropriate standards are adhered to.”

Foxconn reiterated Apple’s statement to the Financial Times, saying “all work was voluntary and compensated appropriately” but “the interns did work overtime in violation of our policy.”

This isn’t the first time Apple has been under fire for the working conditions of its suppliers. Nonprofit advocacy group China Labor Watch for years has reported violations at Apple suppliers, including forcing workers to work 150 hours of overtime per month, employing underage and student workers for dismal wages, and exposing workers to toxic chemicals without appropriate training.

In its 2013 report, China Labor Watch found conditions in factories run by Pegatron, another major Apple supplier, similar to those uncovered by the Financial Times. “All three Pegatron factories require workers to do overtime, especially during busy seasons,” the report stated, in response to Apple’s claims then that overtime work was voluntary. “In two factories, we discovered many workers under the age of 18 working the same long hours under the same conditions as adult workers,” the report continued. “Underage workers often enter the factories as student ‘interns’ required to work at the factories by vocational schools.”

Apple said in its statement to Quartz that it “is dedicated to ensuring everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”