BEIJING—Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. 2317.TW -0.23% acknowledged that it hired underage workers at one of its China plants, in the latest hit to the labor practices of the major contractor for Apple Inc. AAPL +2.31% and other electronics giants.
The Taiwanese company, which also uses the trade name Foxconn Technology Group, 2354.TW -0.89% said that it had employed interns as young as 14 at its campus in Yantai, in the northeastern Chinese province of Shandong, for approximately three weeks. Hon Hai said it took “immediate steps” to return the interns to their educational institutions.
The company didn’t disclose specifics, including how many were hired, and it wasn’t clear what products are made at the plant. But it said in a statement that despite “a strict company policy of not commenting on our customers or their products,” that “our Yantai facility has no association with any work we carry out on behalf of Apple.”
The statement is the most recent in a spate of labor difficulties for the company. In early October, Hon Hai said it took steps to address disputes between a small group of production-line workers and quality-assurance personnel at its Zhengzhou plant in north-central China.
Although the company has said there was no stoppage in production due to the October dispute, in September it was forced to shutter a separate plant in the northern Chinese city of Taiyuan for a day after a fight there escalated into large-scale unrest.
Hon Hai said it is investigating what led to underage interns being employed at the plant, and at this time it has found no evidence of similar violations at other plants. The company said it cooperates with vocational schools and other educational institutions as part of its short-term internship program that employs students for between three to six months.
In its statement, the company said schools recruit students under the supervision of local governments, but added that it took “full responsibility” for the violations.
“We have apologized to each of the students for our role in this action. Furthermore, any Foxconn employee found, through our investigation, to be responsible for these violations will have their employment immediately terminated,” it said in the statement.
China Labor Watch, an nonprofit labor-rights organization, said in a statement that Hon Hai should have checked the identification of students working at its plants. It said that the schools involved should take primary responsibility, but that Hon Hai was also “culpable for not confirming the ages of the workers.”
Hon Hai said interns comprise 2.7% of its workforce of 1.2 million employees in China, and it pays the student workers the same wages as full-time entry-level workers.
Hon Hai has been under scrutiny by labor groups for its work practices. The company has defended its conduct, but earlier this year it agreed to change its labor practices after an outside audit of its Chinese factories found widespread breaches of work rules, including 60-hour workweeks and other health and safety violations.
The audit, carried out by the Fair Labor Association, had recommendations for Hon Hai’s internship program that included ensuring interns don’t work more than 40 hour workweeks and are given accident liability insurance.
As of June 30, the FLA said it found no evidence of underage interns working at Hon Hai’s complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Labor groups also criticized Hon Hai for its work practices after several workers at the company’s massive manufacturing base in China jumped to their deaths in separate incidents in 2010.
Hon Hai has since increased salaries and outfitted worker dormitories with safety nets in an effort to prevent such incidents.