Chinese interns used as cheap labour at assembly linesPhoto: Clean_IT, Flickr (cc)

Companies like Foxconn and Honda are increasingly depending on interns as cheap workforce. Interns do the same work as regular employees, but are paid lower wages and receive less social security and welfare benefits.

Chinese interns used as cheap labour at assembly linesPhoto: Clean_IT, Flickr (cc)

Because of the exclusionary university exam system, many Chinese students are enrolled in profit-driven vocational schools. Internships are an obligatory part of their training and are promoted by teachers as good career opportunities. In reality, interns are performing high-tech low-skill jobs at factories, where few professional development opportunities are offered.

According to an analysis of Dr. Jenny Chan, researcher at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, around 18 million Chinese students are employed in this system. Dr. Jenny Chan argues that both the government and companies in the technology and commercial sectors are complicit to the exploitation. The Chinese state has initiated new labour reforms that states that interns should be paid at ‘80 percent of employees of the same position’.

This system of student exploitation could be changed. Big companies like Apple should strengthen their oversight of the labour conditions in their supply chains. Moreover, the central labour authority of China demanded wage-and-hour rules, ensuring educational programming and limiting intern employment to 20 percent of a factory’s total workforce. The Electronics Industry Citizens Coalition called to change the vocational education system and improve the quality of the programs.

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