Alexa, can you tell me how many Chinese kids were forced into working nights to build this unit?

Your wondrous Amazon smart speaker may be tainted with the paw prints of child labour


Updated An investigation by China Labor Watch has found that Amazon's Alexa and Echo devices are being made by child interns, some forced to work night shifts so suppliers can keep up with peak demand.

The report found schools providing interns to work night shifts at a Hengyang Foxconn plant, producing Amazon devices. Kids who declined compulsory overtime were told by their teachers that it would affect their graduation from school. Teachers stayed at the factory and, it is alleged, helped fire pupils who refused to cooperate.

Foxconn - which also assembles components for Apple devices, among others - peak period begins in July. The report claimed it has hired 1,581 pupils from local technical colleges and is looking for more.

superhero

Foxconn denies it will ship Chinese factory serf, er, workers into America for new plant

READ MORE

The pupils are said to be paid $248 a month to work 10 hours a day, six days a week. Their school is paid 42 cents for every hour each pupil works at the factory. Teachers, who get a $425 bonus from Foxconn, work with factory managers to pressure the pupils into working overtime and night shifts. Teachers verbally and physically abuse pupils to ensure compliance with factory demands.

China Labour Watch obtained internal Foxconn documents suggesting the company was negotiating with Amazon to allow it to break the rules on limiting dispatch workers to 10 per cent of total staff.

The pressure group provided the example of Xiao Fang (name changed), a 17-year-old student majoring in computing at a vocational high school. Her teacher told her she would be working eight hour days for five days a week.

But from 22 July, she was told to work 10 hours a day and six days a week. Her job was to put protective film on Amazon Echo devices and she was expected to produce 3,000 devices a day. When she complained to the manager of her assembly line that she didn't wish to work overtime, they informed her teacher, who told her that if she did not comply she would be sacked, which would "affect her graduation and scholarship applications".

Another example provided is that of an 18-year-old student working for Foxconn - which was the world's tenth biggest employer back in 2012 - for the second year running. In September last year, his school suspended all classes and sent everyone to work for Foxconn for three months. Pupils complained to the local higher education bureau and heard that an investigation had been launched, but nothing has changed.

The work "interns" do is the same as that done by permanent workers. While at their stations, this can involve 50 repetitive motions per minute to keep up with the production line.

While Amazon claimed the report came as a terrible shock, it reflects a similar one from 2018 which found Foxconn routinely broke Chinese labour laws in hiring so-called dispatch workers.

These workers get substantially less pay and rights than full-time staff. Chinese labour laws restrict factories from employing more than 10 per cent of staff on this basis. Foxconn's Amazon factory had 40 per cent dispatch staff last year. Such workers get no paid sick leave, are sent on unpaid leave during quiet times and get less safety training. They are paid the same for normal or overtime hours and are required to work 100 hours a month of overtime during busy periods.

Rates for school interns have fallen from ¥1,950 ($276) last year to ¥1,750 ($243) this year, the report said.

Amazon sent us the following statement:

We do not tolerate violations of our Supplier Code of Conduct. We regularly assess suppliers, using independent auditors as appropriate, to monitor continued compliance and improvement – if we find violations, we take appropriate steps, including requesting immediate corrective action. We are urgently investigating these allegations and addressing this with Foxconn at the most senior level. Additional teams of specialists arrived on-site yesterday to investigate, and we've initiated weekly audits of this issue.

The Register has asked Foxconn to comment.

China Labour Watch has written to Amazon's boss, Jeff Bezos, outlining the violations of local laws and offered to work with his company to ensure better compliance and improved conditions for staff and interns. ®

Updated to add at 1243 UTC 9 August

Foxconn told The Reg:

We can confirm that, effective immediately, the percentage of interns assigned to that facility will be brought into full compliance with the relevant labor law. While the percentage of interns in that facility has fluctuated due to the schedules of incoming and outgoing program participants, there have been occasions when that percentage has exceeded permitted levels and we are taking action to ensure that this does not happen again.

In addition, we have doubled the oversight and monitoring of the internship program with each relevant partner school to ensure that, under no circumstances, will interns be allowed to work overtime or nights. There have been instances in the past where lax oversight on the part of the local management team has allowed this to happen and, while the impacted interns were paid the additional wages associated with these shifts, this is not acceptable and we have taken immediate steps to ensure it will not be repeated.

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • We can unify HPC and AI software environments, just not at the source code level

    Compute graphs are the way forward

    Register Debate Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you the reader choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday. During the week you can cast your vote on which side you support using the poll embedded below, choosing whether you're in favour or against the motion. The final score will be announced on Friday, revealing whether the for or against argument was most popular.

    This week's motion is: A unified, agnostic software environment can be achieved. We debate the question: can the industry ever have a truly open, unified, agnostic software environment in HPC and AI that can span multiple kinds of compute engines?

    Arguing today FOR the motion is Rob Farber, a global technology consultant and author with an extensive background in HPC and in developing machine-learning technology that he applies at national laboratories and commercial organizations. Rob can be reached at info@techenablement.com.

    Continue reading
  • But why that VPN? How WireGuard made it into Linux

    Even the best of ideas can take their own sweet time making it into the kernel

    Maybe someday – maybe – Zero Trust will solve many of our network security problems. But for now, if you want to make sure you don't have an eavesdropper on your network, you need a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

    There's only one little problem with commercial VPNs: many of them are untrustworthy. So, what can you do? Well, run your own of course is the open-source answer. And, today, your VPN of choice is Linux's built-in VPN: WireGuard.

    Why WireGuard rather than OpenVPN or IKEv2? Because it's simpler to implement while maintaining security and delivering faster speeds. And, when it comes to VPNs, it's all about balancing speed and security.

    Continue reading
  • Boffins demonstrate a different kind of floppy disk: A legless robot that hops along a surface

    This is fine

    Those us who fear future enslavement by robot overlords may have one more reason not to sleep at night: engineers have demonstrated a few of the legless, floppy variety making some serious leaps.

    Animated pancake-like droids have demonstrated their ability to execute a series of flops in a fashion their creators – soft robotics engineers based in China – describe as "rapid, continuous, and steered jumping."

    "Jumping is an important locomotion function to extend navigation range, overcome obstacles, and adapt to unstructured environments," Rui Chen of Chongqing University and Huayan Pu of Shanghai University said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021