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Forced Student Labour Drives the Chinese Economic Boom

Most of us cannot resist the lure of high-end products such as Apple’s new iPhone 5S, Playstation and other popular gadgets. Fair enough, you may love their design (created by experts in fancy US offices), but do you know what lies behind their manufacturing in China? Well, read this articlewhich I drew from The Guardian and you will find out!

Apple products are manufactured by Foxconn in China where Zhang, a Chinese student and his teenage classmates, were sent to carry out a 6-month internship in June 2011. As a first-year student at a secondary vocational school, it was against the law for him to follow any sort of internship. Not to mention that work-placements have to relate to a student’s studies. Zhang was specialising in arts. However, he was dispatched to Foxconn’s factory and spent half a year turning out consumer electronics.

What a first work experience!

Zhang’s first experience in this mega-factory involved a series of bizarre facts. First, Zhang and his classmates were forced to sleep in different dormitories, among adult strangers. Second, interns were given the same uniforms as the regular workers while their training was elementary.  Besides that, Zhang had to stand for hours on the assembly line turning out Apple products, a task which was not enticing him at all.

What do student employment in China figures say?

Zhang’s story is just typical of the whole situation in the Chinese labour market. As the primary supplier to Apple and manufacturer of other consumer-electronics firms, Foxconn is one of the largest employers in China which uses student labour. In October 2010, estimated student workforce for Foxconn was amounted to up to 15% – or 150,000 – of its million-strong personnel. More than 28,000 were estimated to be interning for Apple alone.

On top of this, in one local factory students complained about stomach aches and choking. After complaining about workplace safety they were told that, since Japanese medical teams did not abandon rescue work at Fukushima, the students should continue working for the sake of humanity.

Such tales aren’t just a series of unfortunate one-off occurrences. Zhang and his classmates and the hundreds of thousands teens like them are in the very center of the most powerful economic realm in which Chinese children are forced into manufacturing machines. With the blessing of both major employers and the state, they continue to produce shiny stuff to be sold to millions of prosperous westerners.


Picture taken from Picture Alliance/dpa

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