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Foxconn Admits Employing 14-Year-Old Interns

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Foxconn, the world's largest electronics contract manufacturer, admitted on Tuesday that it had employed interns as young as 14 years old at one of its factories in China.

The admission will likely draw further criticism of how the manufacturer of Apple's iPhone device is treating its workers. Foxconn has been struggling to make its operations compliant with Chinese labor laws, given both its own huge scale and deep-rooted habits of violation across the country's manufacturing sector.

Responding to Chinese media reports and a statement by China Labor Watch, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, Foxconn said that an internal investigation had found some participants in a student internship program at its plant in Yantai in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong were under the legal working age of 16 years.

"Our investigation has shown that the interns in question, who ranged in age from 14 to 16, had worked in that campus for approximately three weeks," the company said. "This is not only a violation of China's labor law, it is also a violation of Foxconn policy, and immediate steps have been taken to return the interns in question to their educational institutions."

Foxconn pledged to conduct a full investigation and fire any employee found to have been responsible for the violations. The company also said the Yantai facility "has no association with any work we carry out on behalf of Apple".

Foxconn has long run internship programs under which students work on the production lines for up to six months. While it argues these programs allow students to gather experience and help the company identify talent, labor activists have repeatedly accused it of exploiting the students and using the program to make up for staff shortages.

The incident comes as Foxconn has been struggling to meet demand for workers at several of its more than 30 plants in China. External recruiters and government officials in Zhengzhou and Taiyuan said local government commitments to help supply sufficient labor were part of the agreements under which the group set up its large plants in these two cities.

Foxconn said 2.7 percent of its 1.2 million-strong workforce are currently interns.

The Yantai case is the latest in a string of labor problems at Foxconn plants. Over the past two years, Foxconn has enacted many reforms at its factories, including steep pay rises, outsourced worker accommodation and reduced overtime.

In August, the Fair Labor Association, which is conducting an audit of some Foxconn factories on behalf of Apple, said the company had fixed 284 of the 360 problems the FLA had identified earlier.

The company's second-largest plant, in Zhengzhou, which makes the iPhone5, was this month rattled by a dispute between quality control staff and line workers, and last month thousands of workers at the Taiyuan factory rioted after an argument between a worker and a security guard. In July, workers at the company's Chengdu plant, which makes iPads, damaged facilities in a pay dispute. And in January, hundreds staged a protest sit-in on the roof of a Foxconn factory in Wuhan.

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