Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturing firm, is at the center of controversy once again after admitting to pushing student interns to work overtime in advance of the release of the upcoming Sony PlayStation 4 gaming console.
According to reports out of China, thousands of students from the Xi’an Institute of Technology were made to work assembly line jobs at Foxconn as a condition of obtaining a degree.
“Students have been told if they refuse to participate, they lose six course credits, which effectively means they will not be able to graduate” reads one report. “[S]tudents say that their working hours are exactly the same as regular workers — the only difference is that unlike the workers, the students aren’t being paid.”
In a statement, Foxconn admits that student interns were used but claims the work was “voluntary”:
“Immediate actions have been taken to bring that campus into full compliance with our code and policies, reinforcing the policies of no overtime and no night shifts for student interns, even though such work is voluntary, and reminding all interns of their rights to terminate their participation in the program at any time.”
It’s unclear if Foxconn is saying that the student could leave the internship and still receive the course credit, or if it’s just saying the student could leave the internship. Those are two very different things.
Sony’s statement on the situation goes a little like this:
“The Sony Group established the ‘Sony Supplier Code of Conduct’ in June 2005 with the expectation of every supplier agreeing and adhering to the policies of the Sony Group in complying with all applicable laws, work ethics, labour conditions, and respect for human rights, environmental conservation and health & safety… We understand Foxconn fully comprehend and comply with this ‘Sony Supplier Code of Conduct.'”
Foxconn, which manufacturers parts and products for almost every major electronics brand in plants around the world, has long been a lightning rod for controversy, especially with regard to the treatment of workers.
In 2012, workers on an Xbox assembly line in Taiwan reportedly threatened to commit suicide over severance payments. In 2011, several employees died as a result of an explosion at a plant in China. The year before that, Foxconn workers at a plant in Mexico set fire to the facility over alleged unpaid overtime.