Apple Inc is investigating a factory in southwest China after a labor rights group said the tech giant’s supplier forced student workers to work “like robots” to assemble its popular Apple Watch.
The report raises fresh questions about the practices of suppliers Apple uses to build its gadgets in the country.
Many of the students were compelled to work in order to get their vocational degrees and had to do night shifts, according to an investigation by Hong Kong-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM).
SACOM interviewed 28 students at the plant in Chongqing over the summer, and all of them said they had not voluntarily applied to work there, according to the report published last week.
They worked under the guise of “internships,” SACOM said, a practice rights groups say is widespread in China as manufacturers pair up with vocational schools to supply workers and fill labor shortages when they ramp up production for new models or the Christmas rush.
“Our graduation certificate will be withheld by the school if we refuse to come,” SACOM cited one student majoring in e-commerce as saying.
Manufacturing internships are permitted under Chinese labor law in some cases, but SACOM found the work has “literally nothing to do with learning” and violated some of the country’s labor law provisions permitting intern work in factories.
“We are like robots on the production lines,” one 18-year-old student told SACOM. “We repeat the same procedure for hundreds and thousands of times every day, like a robot.”
Others said they were put on the night shift working from 8pm to 8am with minimal breaks, SACOM said.
The Chongqing factory is operated by Quanta Computer Inc (廣達), a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, and also produces for other brands.
Quanta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, Apple spokeswoman Wei Gu (顧蔚) said: “We are urgently investigating the report that student interns added in September are working overtime and night shifts.”
Quanta Chongqing was a new Apple supplier and had been audited three times between March and June without finding student interns, Gu said.
Student workers told SACOM student labor was widespread at the factory.
Assembly lines that pieced together Apple Watches that had failed a quality check were almost entirely made up of student workers, one intern told SACOM.
“The factory would not be able to operate without student workers,” a student said.
The NGO demanded Apple investigate and bring the labor practices in line with the firm’s own policies and those of the local and central Chinese government.
The US titan has sold tens of millions of Apple Watches since it was launched three years ago and chief executive Tim Cook has said it is the most popular watch in the world.
Earlier allegations of labor abuse by Apple suppliers focused on workers building iPhones and other gadgets for Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (鴻海科技集團), which is known as Foxconn Technology Group (富士康科技集團) outside of Taiwan.
In 2010, at least 13 Foxconn employees in China died in apparent suicides, which activists blamed on tough working conditions, prompting calls for better treatment of staff.
Foxconn admitted to intern violations in 2013, with overtime and night shift problems similar to those leveled at the Quanta factory this year.
NOT ALL GOOD: Analysts warned that other data for last month might be less rosy due to the virus and analysts expect the PMI to contract again next month Chinese factory activity saw surprise growth last month as businesses went back to work following a lengthy shutdown, but analysts said that the economy faces a challenging recovery as external demand has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, while the World Bank said that growth could screech to a halt. China is slowly returning to life after months of tough restrictions aimed at containing the virus, which put millions of people into virtual house arrest and brought economic activity to a near standstill. The strict measures saw a closely watched gauge of manufacturing plunge to its lowest level on record in February,
ALL ABOUT STRATEGY: The company is optimistic, saying that its gross margin should increase year-on-year, but it is scaling back on its plans to expand capacity Quang Viet Enterprise Co (QVE, 廣越), which makes down jackets and garments for sportswear and outdoor brands including Adidas AG, yesterday said that revenue might drop 5 to 10 percent annually this year as some customers trimmed orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That would mark its first revenue decline since 2016. Quang Viet posted record-high revenue of NT$16.26 billion (US$537.45 million) last year, up 22 percent from 2018. Down jackets made up 40 percent of it revenue last year. North Face Inc and Patagonia Inc are this year likely to reduce orders by 20 to 30 percent from a
ELECTRONICS Lite-On delays sale of unit Lite-On Technology Corp (光寶科技) yesterday said it would postpone the sale of its solid-state drives (SSD) business to Kioxia Holdings Corp, formerly known as Toshiba Memory Holdings Corp, due to disruptions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the Taiwan-based electronics components supplier struck the deal with the Japanese firm, agreeing to sell the unit for US$165 million. Citing unfinished integration work due to the pandemic, Lite-On has deferred today’s closing date until further notice, adding that the delay would not have a negative effect on the unit’s operations. AUTO PARTS Hiroca approves dividend Automotive interior parts supplier Hiroca
The output of the global smartphone industry this year is to contract by 7.8 percent on an annual basis as the COVID-19 pandemic ushers in a global recession, Taipei-based market researcher TrendForce Corp (集邦科技) said in a report on Monday. The global production of smartphones is expected to fall to 1.29 billion units, as the pandemic dampens demand for consumer electronics, leading to a decline in shipments across Europe and North America, TrendForce said. With consumers delaying smartphone purchases and thereby lengthening the device replacement cycle, overall prices would suffer a setback that is expected to negatively affect the profitability of smartphone