A group of U.S. Congressmen sent a letter to Amazon’s CEO on February 16 urging the company to help a former employee of one of its factories in China who spent two years in prison where he was tortured for disclosing the labor exploitation and mistreatment of school-age children.
Senators Jeff Merkley and Marco Rubio along with Representatives James P. McGovern and Chris Smith signed the letter sent from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) urging Mr. Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon, to intervene on behalf of Mr. Tang Mingfang a former materials control engineer at Foxconn’s complex in Hengyang City where products such as Amazon’s Alexa and other Kindle items are assembled.
In August 2018, the British news outlet The Guardian, published a report alleging that Foxconn’s factory in Hengyang, used school children between 16 and 18 years old, as labor to meet high production demands.
According to the report, the factory pays $80 per month to schools to take the students who have to stay overnight on the premises because they are made to work at night shifts. Also, they receive much lower wages than regular employees and the factory uses coercive methods to force the children work overtime.
The practice of employing these children attending technical schools as ‘interns’ is legal in China, however, overtime and night shifts are not.
According to testimonies obtained by The Guardian, the children are initially offered to work in these factories under the promise of learning the trade, but are told it is only 8 hours a day five days a week and end up doing 12 hours and six days a week and the tasks they are made to do, such as fitting a protective film to thousands of the Echo Dot Alexa speakers, have nothing to do with what they study.
Those who refuse to work overtime are often threatened.
Xiao Fang, a 17-year-old girl said, “I tried to tell my line manager that I didn’t want to work overtime. But the manager told my teacher and the teacher told me that if I didn’t work overtime, I wouldn’t be able to do internships at Foxconn and it would affect my graduation and scholarship applications at school… I had no choice, I just had to put up with this.”
After the report was published, China Labor Watch, a worker rights group, contacted Mr. Tang Mingfang to conduct an on-site investigation.
Tang provided testimony and photos with which the NGO made an allegation of the use of child labor at the factory. Shortly after the complaint was published, Mr. Tang was taken into custody of the factory in August 2019.
On July 1, 2020, Tang Mingfang was convicted of trade secret violation based on evidence provided by Foxconn, and was sentenced to two years in prison and had to pay a fine of $1500.
While in custody, police tortured him to extract a confession.
On January 30, once released, Mr. Tang wrote a letter to Amazon management describing the ordeal he suffered for speaking out against child labor exploitation at the factory:
“The police officer battered me multiple times during the interrogation, he repeatedly slapped and hit me in my face and in the back of my head. I was also tortured during the interrogation process when I refused to collaborate and admit to their baseless accusations. I could not stand up because my hands were chained onto the little desk that connected the two armrests, I could not do anything but suffer through such grave pain. During the first few days of the interrogation, the officers purposefully turned the air conditioner to the maximum level in the interrogation room, and I felt extremely cold. Eventually, they got angry and handcuffed both hands to the bottom of the iron frame. I was unable to stand or sit down, and I spent the entire night in a semi-crouching position.”
Despite Foxconn’s assurances that it ‘has taken immediate action to ensure there is no recurrence’, allegations of underage labor exploitation were first reported in 2018.
Furthermore, for those familiar with the situation in mainland China, laws are only enforced when it benefits Chinese Communist Party officials and—as this type of business leaves huge profits to the state—it is most likely a common practice in the hundreds of thousands of dedicated factories across China engaged in the manufacturing and assembly of technology products.
The Congressmen in their letter, urged Amazon’s CEO to intercede to have the charges against Mr. Tang dropped and to compensate him monetarily for the fines he was forced to pay and the prison time he had to spend for speaking out against labor abuses in Amazon’s supply chain.
This is the second time the Committee has written to Amazon with no response.
Mr. Tang’s case is the tip of an iceberg.
For years the Chinese Communist Party has been accused of intentionally keeping workers’ wages low in order to control manufacturing prices and attract large corporations seeking to reduce their production costs.
Many independent organizations have also charged that the Chinese regime sentences hundreds of thousands of people to prison for their beliefs and uses them to produce everything from chopsticks to teddy bears, working in unhealthy conditions and without wages, such is the case of Falun Gong practitioners and the muslim minority Uhigurs in Xinjiang province.
While large corporations such as Amazon, Apple, Nike, etc. have managed to reduce the cost of their production by bringing their factories to China, hundreds of thousands of Chinese have been subjected to subhuman conditions for such purposes.