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Amazon sends inspectors in to investigate reports that children have worked overnight and overtime to make Alexa-enabled devices

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Amazon says it is investigating reports that children have worked overnight in a Chinese factory to make Amazon Alexa devices.

It says it has sent teams of specialists to the site of a Foxconn factory in China where it is alleged that more than 1,000 local students aged between 16 and 18 had been working nights and overtime as interns producing Alexa-enabled Echo and Echo Dot devices as well as Kindles – in a way that breaches Chinese law. 

The Guardian today reports that the children from the southern Chinese city of Hengyang were drafted in under teacher supervision to work for more than two months, boosting staffing levels at a Foxconn factory during a period of high production. It says that while Chinese factories are allowed to employ students of 16 or over, they are not allowed to work nights or overtime. 

An Amazon spokesperson said today: “We do not tolerate violations of our Supplier Code of Conduct. We regularly assess suppliers, using independent auditors as appropriate, to monitor continued compliance and improvement – if we find violations, we take appropriate steps, including requesting immediate corrective action. 

“We are urgently investigating these allegations and addressing this with Foxconn at the most senior level. Additional teams of specialists arrived on-site yesterday to investigate, and we’ve initiated weekly audits of this issue.”

Foxconn said, in a statement to The Guardian: “We have doubled the oversight and monitoring of the internship programme with each relevant partner school to ensure that, under no circumstances will interns [be] allowed to work overtime or nights.

“There have been instances in the past where lax oversight on the part of the local management team has allowed this to happen and, while the impacted interns were paid the additional wages associated with these shifts, this is not acceptable and we have taken immediate steps to ensure it will not be repeated.”

But it also said that the internship programme gave students of a legal working age the opportunity of practical work experience and on-the-job training. 

Amazon’s recent Prime Day, held in July, was the biggest shopping event in its history, and the biggest ever for sales of Amazon devices. Many of those buying Amazon devices will have bought an Alexa-enabled device or a Kindle. eMarketer figures suggest that Amazon Alexa dominates the fast-growing voice commerce market. 

Amazon is an Elite retailer in IRUK Top500 research.

Our view: Many UK consumers will not be impressed to read headlines that children are working overnight and overtime to make the voice assistants that a growing number of people use to help organise their lives. This story – and the swift action that Amazon has taken – is a useful reminder to retailers, if one were needed, that shoppers, now taking more notice of ethical and sustainable issues than ever, will hold them ultimately responsible for the way their supply chains are run.

Image: Fotolia

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