At least 56 underage interns, some of them as young as 14, were working at an eastern China factory of Apple group’s largest supplier Foxconn Technologies, it has been revealed.
Following an internal investigation by the Taiwanese company, the students will now return to their schools in the eastern Chinese city of Yantai located in the Shandong province.
Some of the children said their internships were supposed to last from one to three months.
“The children are paid less than 2,000 Yuan per month for their work, much less than the factory's adult workers. The children said they engage in the same work as the adult workers, laboring on production lines and helping with distribution,” state-run Xinhua reported Wednesday.
"The workers are working against the clock to produce Nintendo Wii gamepads, as the company has been trying to catch up with its orders. It is common for us to work overtime," one of the students said.
Chinese Labor Law refers to workers below the age of 16 as child laborers. Employers can be fined or have their business licenses revoked for illegally hiring child laborers, according to the law.
“The underage workers were among thousands of students sent from vocational schools in Yantai to the factory after Foxconn turned to the Administration Committee of the Yantai Development Zone for help in solving a severe labor shortage that occurred in September, when the company reported a shortage of 19,000 workers,” the report said.
"Our investigation has shown that the interns in question, who ranged in age from 14 to 16, had worked in that campus for approximately three weeks," the company said in a statement.
“However, we recognise that full responsibility for these violations rests with our company and we have apologised to each of the students for our role in this action,” it added.
According to Xinhua, Foxconn's Yantai factory is one of the company's eight major production bases on the Chinese mainland. The factory went into operation in 2004 and produces PCs, mobile phones and video game consoles.
Foxconn and Apple have been facing a media and public backlash after a series of suicides and labor abuses occurred in Foxconn factories over the last couple of years.
Local authorities have also been blamed for putting the company's interests above others by providing favorable land use policies and helping the company recruit cheap labor.