Some students said they hoped the work would improve their prospects.
“Electronics is our major and so this will help in finding jobs,” former Foxconn intern and vocational student Sun Chuangjiao said.
Companies defend the internships as educational as well as a useful recruitment strategy.
“The vast majority of our interns and the schools that sponsor them find their experience with us relevant and meaningful, and an important first step in their career development,” Emerson Electronic told reporters.
It employs 40 interns for eight-month stints, out of a workforce of 1,063 at its air conditioner compressor plant in the Yangtze Delta city of Suzhou.
All are over 18, it said.
The shortage of labor means companies often search far and wide for vocational schools to supply workers.
Zhang said she had contacted schools across China to find interns while Mok Jangkyun, an auditor with Samsung Electronics, said he drove a full day after flying to Guizhou Province in southwest China to vet a vocational school sending interns to its supplier factories.
Samsung did an audit of factories after activists found underage workers with fake IDs at one of the electronics giant’s 250 supplier factories in China. The South Korean company said it did not find underage workers at any of its suppliers.
Supplying vocational students can be lucrative.
Some students in Yantai said their school took 500 yuan from their monthly wage. Their school declined an interview request.
Some companies pay teachers directly to keep students in line in dormitories and on the factory floor, SACOM has found. In other cases, companies pay management fees or set up extra facilities at schools.
Foxconn says while it pays teachers who supervise students, it usually does not compensate schools.
“However, in some cases, we do provide compensation to meet their overall administrative costs,” it said.
Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom, Ben Berkowitz, Faith Hung, Miyoung Kim and Yoko Kubota