Although most of the hype and media attention regarding Apple’s iPhone 5 focused on its design and usability, the human cost of actually making the phone has come to light. The company that manufactures the handset, Taiwan-based Foxconn, the world’s largest maker of electronic components, has come under scrutiny again as it admitted to employing interns as young as 14 years old to piece together the iPhone 5.
Following a report from the independent not-for-profit organization China Labor Watch, in which the organization concluded underage interns were mainly sent to Foxconn by schools but that Foxconn did not check the IDs of the underage interns, Foxconn issued its own statement in an email to the technology news site Cnet, admitting it had employed interns under China’s legal working age of 16. While China Labor Watch stated these schools held the primary responsibility for the incident, Foxconn was culpable for not confirming the ages of the workers.
“This is not only a violation of China’s labor law, it is also a violation of Foxconn policy and immediate steps have been taken to return the interns in question to their educational institutions,” Foxconn said in an emailed statement to Cnet. “We are also carrying out a full investigation, in cooperation with the respective educational institutions, to determine how this happened and the actions that must be taken by our company to ensure that it can never happen again.”
This is not the first time the company has been embroiled in controversy over working conditions. In January, in-depth reports from The New York Times and other news sources on working conditions at the company’s factories caused Apple fans to consider their devices anew. The Times report told of workers made to work such long hours on their feet that their legs swelled to where they couldn’t walk and described one of two explosions, tied to polishing iPads, that resulted in one death and dozens of injuries.
The reports led to Apple asking the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate the Foxconn factories, and on March 29, the FLA released a report of its findings, which included “serious and pressing” violations of the FLA’s Workplace Code of Conduct as well as Chinese labor laws. While the report wasn’t as horrific as some had expected, it described workers feeling “insecure” about their safety at work, not being paid properly, in many instances, for overtime hours, and many not being paid.