Apple probes suspected abuse at plant

Apple is investigating a factory in China after a labor rights group said the tech giant's supplier forced student workers to work "like robots" to assemble its Apple Watch.

Apple is investigating a factory in southwest China after a labor rights group said the tech giant’s supplier forced student workers to work “like robots” to assemble its popular Apple Watch.

Many of the students were compelled to work in order to get their vocational degrees and had to do night shifts, according to an investigation by Hong Kong-based NGO Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).

SACOM interviewed 28 students at the plant in the city of Chongqing over the summer, and all of them said they had not voluntarily applied to work there, according to the report published last week.

They worked under the guise of “internships,” SACOM said, a practice that rights groups say is widespread in China as manufacturers pair up with vocational schools to supply workers and fill labor shortages when they ramp up production for new models or the Christmas rush.

“Our graduation certificate will be withheld by the school if we refuse to come,” said one student majoring in e-commerce, according to SACOM.

The US titan has sold tens of millions of Apple Watches — which can cost up to US$1,499 — since it was launched three years ago and Chief Executive Tim Cook said it was the most popular watch in the world.

The Chongqing factory is operated by Quanta Computer, a Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer, and also produces for other brands.

“We are urgently investigating the report that student interns added in September are working overtime and night shifts,” Apple spokeswoman Wei Gu said. Wei noted Quanta Chongqing was a new Apple supplier and had been audited three times between March and June without finding student interns.

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