The students engaged in 'work experience' at the iPhone plant were training for careeres on the railways
An assembly line at a Foxconn factory: 3,000 students were sent on compulsory 'work experience' at a local Foxconn facility to assemble iPhones © Reuters

Foxconn, Apple’s main iPhone supplier, has stopped school-age interns from working illegal overtime at its Zhengzhou plant in central China following a Financial Times report.

The company turned to cheap student labour in September to catch up with orders after a shortage of workers caused delays in production of Apple’s anniversary iPhone X.

Six secondary school pupils said they were working 11-hour shifts at the Zhengzhou factory even though students are not allowed to work overtime under Chinese labour law. They were part of a group of 3,000 interns from the local Urban Rail Transit School sent on compulsory “work experience”.

“I thought I had done enough overtime but then my school teacher yelled at me for doing too little,” said Ms Yang, 18, an intern. According to the students, teachers were housed on-site to help manage them.

Foxconn confirmed on Wednesday it had taken “immediate action to ensure that no interns are carrying out any overtime work”. On Tuesday Apple said it had taken “prompt action” when it found some students were working overtime.

Student interns will now work up to eight hours a day.

“All of the interns have been taken off overtime, and this should continue,” one Foxconn employee told the FT. “Your report has made the factory improve. If there are more reports, they will also pay more attention to workers’ rights.”

The Foxconn climbdown is an unusual instance of Chinese worker-employee relations improving peacefully as Beijing continues to crack down on growing worker unrest. The state has also targeted labour and human rights advocates and lawyers.

On Wednesday Jiang Tianyong, the rights lawyer, was sentenced to two years in jail. Earlier this year workers’ rights advocates were detained by police for investigating a shoe factory that used to supply Ivanka Trump’s label.

Seven students aged 17 to 19 said their teachers made them carry out a compulsory “work experience” module at Zhengzhou in order to graduate from their vocational school. All seven were assembling the iPhone X yet were studying to become train attendants or railway managers.

Apple and Foxconn insisted the students were working voluntarily. “All work was voluntary and compensated appropriately,” said Foxconn.

The ending of student overtime is easier for the factory now the busy season, which usually runs from August to December with the launch of iPhone models, is almost over.

“We are gradually fulfilling all the orders, and so overtime will naturally fall, our demand for labour is falling,” a Foxconn employee said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
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