Apple is investigating allegations that one of its suppliers forced High school students to work ‘like robots’ to assemble its popular Apple watch. The allegation was made by a labour rights group, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).
SACOM alleges that students were compelled through compulsory internships, working in fields unrelated to their study, made to work overtime and in some cases, overnight shifts in order to qualify for their vocational degrees. All of such decrees violate Chinese regulations and Apple’s own standards, SACOM said.
SACOM interviewed 28 students at the plant in Chongquig municipality over the summer and was told by all that they had not voluntarily applied to work there, according to its report.
‘The factory would not be able to operate without student workers,’ a student told SACOM.
They worked under the guise of ‘internships, SACOM said, a practice rights group say is widespread in China as manufacturers seek innovative ways to supplement their workforce by partnering with vocational schools.
Apple said in a statement Monday that it audited Quanta’s Chongqing factory three times between March and June, and found ‘no student interns working on Apple products at that time.’
The allegations highlight the challenges faced by Apple (AAPL), the world’s most valuable company, in monitoring its extensive global supply chains.
The Chongquig factory is operated by Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, and also produces for other brands. Quanta has denied school students on internships. It said in a statement it always follows its customer standards and is working closely with Apple on the Investigation.
‘We are urgently investigating the report that student interns added in September are working overtime and night shifts,’ Apple said. ‘We have zero tolerance for failure to comply with our standards and we ensure swift action and appropriate remediation if we discover code violations.’
SACOM’s report is based on interviews with more than two dozen teenagers who worked at the Chongqing factory this summer. The report withheld the names of the students, citing privacy concerns.
Apple has come under fire for labor practices in its supply chain in the past, including the illegal use of student workers.
Last November, Apple and one of its biggest suppliers, Foxconn, admitted that student interns illegally worked excessive overtime at a Chinese factory to assemble the iPhone X. Apple said at the time that it sent staff to the factory to address the violations.
Foxconn told the Financial Times in November that ‘all work was voluntary and compensated appropriately, [but] the interns did work overtime in violation of our policy.’ It said it had taken ‘immediate action to ensure that no interns are carrying out any overtime work.’
Since last year, Apple has required suppliers to limit the number of student interns at factories to no more than 10% of their total workforce