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Apple's Chinese suppliers are using child labour

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Apple's iPhone and iPad production facilities in China came under renewed scrutiny after reports that 16 year-olds were being shipped off from their homes to distant electronics factories to work as "interns".

Reports have indicated that the Foxconn plant in the massive industrial city of Shenzhen routinely uses school-age workers or students from throughout China. Figures for 2010 suggest that 15 percent of the workforce came under this category. Up to 28,000 were working on turning out Apple products, despite the dubious legality.

In fact Foxconn has admitted that it broke the fairly relaxed Chinese employment laws by making schoolchildren work overtime and night shifts. Making them work day shifts is perfectly legal it seems.

A new book by Jenny Chan, Pun Ngai and Mark Selden reveals the extent to which schoolchildren are being exploited in China's factories, usually to satisfy consumer demand for the latest electronic gadgets from Apple, Sony and other companies.

Factories like Foxconn are helped by the collusion of regional governments, which essentially conscript children and students to work in factories thousands of miles away. This allows the regions to have a ready-trained workforce in advance of opening their own factories.

Apple claims that substandard working conditions at the factories run by its Chinese suppliers are no longer the case. It acknowledges that the internships are "poorly run", but that is all. Its assurances are contradicted by the evidence gathered at Foxconn and similar facilities in China.

A conscientious company would take a closer interest in the way its products are manufactured. That of course would push up costs. Apple's incredible profits still rely on manufacturing its gadgets at a paltry cost and failing to pass the savings onto to credulous consumers who believe they are buying a premium product.

Let's call it iExploitation, although there are worse terms that might apply. In the meantime, no doubt UK government ministers will use the China model as a blueprint about what to do with the unemployed. . .

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