Foxconn Technology Group said it uncovered underage workers as young as 14 working in violation of Chinese law and its own policies at a factory in the eastern city of Yantai, according to international media reports and the official Xinhua News Agency
Foxconn is the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer, with clients such as Apple, Dell, HP and Sony.
China's legal working age is 16. Human rights activists have accused large employers in China of using student interns to fill low-paying jobs that young adults often turn down, Reuters reported
Xinhua said 56 students below the legal age were employed last month after Foxconn appealed to local officials to help solve a shortage of 19,000 workers at plants in the region.
The Taiwanese-based company defended its internship program, saying students only make up 2.7 percent of its workforce in China and that they are hired in collaboration with vocational schools and other educational institutions, according to Reuters
. Foxconn said no other factories were involved the underage hiring.
The Yantai plant doesn't make any products for Apple, according to the Associated Press
The news underscores the challenges multinational companies have in monitoring outsourced production facilities in China and elsewhere for adherence to quality, safety, environmental, labor and security standards or company policies.
Two years ago Foxconn and Apple took steps to improve working conditions at Chinese plants after a series of suicides and protests over forced overtime and other problems drew worldwide attention.
Foxconn workers are relatively well paid compared to other jobs in China. - Eric Kulisch