Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Kuala Lumpur — Amazon pledged on Friday to investigate claims of worker abuse at a factory in China after labour activists said students as young as 17 were put on night shifts and legal overtime limits broken.

Research by New York-based China Labour Watch found the factory, used by manufacturer Foxconn to make the online retail company’s Echo Dot smart speaker and Kindle e-reader, relied on temporary student workers and excessive overtime.

Under Chinese law, factories can hire student interns aged 16 and older, but they are barred from working overtime or night shifts.  =Workers put in well over the legal maximum of 36 hours of overtime a month, with some working an extra 140 hours at peak times.

“We are urgently investigating these allegations and addressing this with Foxconn at the most senior level,” an Amazon spokesman said.

“We do not tolerate violations of our supplier code of conduct,” he said, adding the company sent investigators to the site last week after it became aware of the claims.

About 20% or one in five workers at the plant in the central Chinese city of Hengyang was a student intern, double the legal limit, according to China Labour Watch.

It was the second time Amazon and its contract manufacturer, Foxconn, came under scrutiny for its treatment of workers at the factory. Taiwan-based Foxconn, known formally as Hon Hai Precision Industry, is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer and employs more than 1-million people.

Foxconn said it would work to ensure it follows the law on the number of student interns it hires, and not ask them to work excessive hours, though it stressed that all were of legal working age.

“We regularly carry out internal reviews ... and a recent review of our operations in Hengyang determined that we were not in full compliance with all relevant laws and regulation,” the firm said.

Foxconn, which also makes Apple iPhones, came under fire in 2010 for a spate of suicides at plants in China.

Thomson Reuters Foundation