Amazon Plant In China Accused Of Forcing High School Interns To Work 60 Hour Weeks

In addition to not paying taxes and putting the entire brick and mortar retail industry out of business single-handedly, Amazon has now opened itself up to even more criticism. The company is being accused of using a Chinese assembly plant that relies on temporary workers, including high school interns, and overtime limits set beyond law, according to Bloomberg.  

In fact, Foxconn fired two executives from the plant, which assembles Echo speakers and Kindle e-readers, in response to a labor group's allegation that it cut wages and broke labor laws. This marks the second time that Amazon and its Taiwanese peer have been under scrutiny for the treatment of workers at the Hengyang plant. 

The plant’s chief and head of human resources were fired, while managers at the plant who were responsible for using interns were "punished", according to Foxconn. 

China Labor Watch said:

 “Amazon and Foxconn responded that they would make improvements to the factory’s working conditions. However, CLW’s 2019 investigation found that Foxconn’s working conditions did not improve, and instead deteriorated.”

The labor group deemed the factory's wages too low to support a "decent standard of living last year". Since then, they've been slashed another 16% in 2019. 

The poor salary hasn't been enough to fill the company's 58 assembly lines, which require 7,000 people to operate during peak production, which begins in July. To fill the void, Foxconn instead tapped interns as young as 16 from vocational schools, some of which were forced to work overtime. 

One 17 year old computing major at a vocational school, who was responsible for putting protective film over Amazon Echo Dots, said she worked 40 hour work weeks. She was then asked to start working overtime and put in 60 hour work weeks. When she complained to the manager, she reportedly was warned by her teacher that turning down the work could jeopardize her graduation. 

Foxconn admits that its proportion of contract workers and student interns had "on occasion exceeded legal thresholds and that some interns had been allowed to work overtime or nights".

"We were not in full compliance with all relevant laws and regulation," Foxconn said. The company continued, in a statement:

"Effective immediately, the percentage of interns assigned to that facility will be brought into full compliance with the relevant labor law."

The specific allegations made by the China Labor Watch report included:

  • Interns from local vocational schools accounted for more than 20% of the plant’s current workforce, double the levels permitted by law

  • Such student workers were forced to work night shifts and overtime, in violation of the law, and that some interns were physically and verbally abused by teachers overseeing their work

  • The factory used “dispatch workers” -- similar to temporary staff in the U.S. -- for around one in three positions at the plant, in excess of the 10% permitted by law

  • Some 375 workers had been asked to work overtime on Sunday without receiving makeup days off, contrary to labor rules that stipulate at least one scheduled day off per week

Foxconn has battled criticism of how it has treated its workers for over a decade now. Those critiques came to a head in 2010 when a rash of suicides by workers at the company forced it to make a major overhaul of how it treated workers. 

A report from China Labor Watch last year once again shone a spotlight on the company, as well as on Amazon. Amazon claims that it asked Foxconn to make changes in 2018 after a labor audit of the Hengyang facility showed similar overtime violations. Amazon's investigators arrived on site Wednesday and the company says it has started doing "weekly audits" of the labor issue. Let's see how long that lasts.

Amazon commented: “We are urgently investigating these allegations and addressing this issue with Foxconn at the most senior level.”