By Shereen Siewert
Leaked documents show hundreds of children have been required to work nights and overtime to produce Amazon’s Alexa devices in China at Foxconn, the company that plans to build a new display panel plant next spring in southeastern Wisconsin.
Interviews with workers and leaked documents were detailed in a report published this week in The Guardian. According to the report, the children, who were drafted from schools and technical colleges, are being paid $16.54 yuan per hour for the overtime work, which calculates to about $2.34 per hour in U.S. currency. The practice represents a breach of Chinese labor laws. Chinese factories are allowed to employ students aged 16 and older, but they are not allowed to work nights or overtime.
The Guardian report states the children, who are all teenagers, are classified as “interns”, and their teachers are paid by the factory to accompany them. Teachers are allegedly asked to encourage uncooperative students to accept overtime work on top of regular shifts. Some teens reported working 10-hour shifts six days per week on top of attending classes.
According to the documents, Foxconn managers need students, who mostly stay in the factory’s dormitories, to work overtime to meet production targets; those who refuse are fired. One document states: “Student interns who don’t work overtime will not only affect the production goal but also affect their willingness to work. Student interns need to work overtime.”
The documents were leaked to the labor rights group China Labor Watch and shared with the Guardian for their investigative report.
Foxconn in 2017 agreed to add 15 new production lines to the factory and hire thousands of workers as part of a deal with Amazon to produce Echo, Echo Dot and Kindle devices, but has since struggled to fill the worker gap. Amazon has acknowledged the labor situation with Foxconn. In a statement to The Guardian, Amazon officials said the company will not tolerate violations of its supplier code of conduct.
China Labor Watch officials are calling for both Amazon and Foxconn to allow independent monitoring of working conditions to prevent breaches of labor law.
Foxconn admitted that students had been employed illegally and vowed to take immediate action to mitigate the situation. In a statement to The Guardian, company officials said they have taken “immediate steps” to ensure the practice won’t be repeated
Gov. Tony Evers told CNBC during a June 27 interview that he believes the Wisconsin plant will have about 1,500 employees in place when production begins in May.
The company needs to hire 1,820 workers by the end of 2020 to qualify for job-creation incentive payments. The state has promised to make more than $4 billion available in state and local tax credits if Foxconn spends about $9 billion and hires 13,000 people.