Police detained two students in Beijing today who were part of a group protesting outside an Apple store about alleged worker exploitation, according to one of the demonstrators.
The students were protesting in response to allegations made last month that one of the U.S. tech giant’s suppliers was exploiting student workers in south-west China.
Students were forced to ‘work like robots’ under the guise of internships in order to get their vocational degrees and had to do night shifts, according to an investigation by a Hong Kong-based labour rights group.
This picture taken by Zhifan Liu shows demonstrating students holding placards outside an Apple Store in Beijing in protest against alleged illegal employment of students at a factory
But Apple said it found ‘no student interns working on Apple products’ after it audited the Quanta’s Chongqing factory three times between March and June (file photo)
The two students detained were from Renmin University and Peking University – two schools that have seen a surge of student-led labour activism this year.
One of the other protesters, a 21-year-old from Renmin University, told AFP that a group of police ordered the students to show their IDs shortly after they finished taking photos in front of the Apple store.
A total of 10 students participated in the protest.
‘They said we were disrupting the order, disrupting law and order, and asked to check our IDs,’ said the student, who requested anonymity.
After the protesters initially refused to show their identification cards, the police took two students away, she said.
Beijing police did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.
The students were holding signs that said ‘Protesting illegal student employment at an Apple factory, supporting workers to create their own unions’ before police dispersed the protest
Quanta Chongqing’s workers pictured finishing work. Students said they were forced to make Apple watches through ‘compulsory internships’ unrelated to their field of study
According to photos shared on Twitter by eyewitness Zhifan Liu, a French freelance journalist based in Beijing, the students were holding signs that said ‘Protesting illegal student employment at an Apple factory, supporting workers to create their own unions’, before police dispersed the protest.
The students had planned to take photos and shoot a video to raise awareness around the alleged exploitation of student workers at an Apple Watch factory in Chongqing municipality.
According to a report published last month by Hong Kong-based labour rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), students from a vocational school had to work punishing hours at the factory, assembling Apple Watches – under the guise of ‘internships’ unrelated to their field of study – or else their graduate degrees would be withheld.
‘We are like robots on the production lines,’ one 18-year-old student told SACOM. ‘We repeat the same procedure for hundreds and thousands of times every day, like a robot.’
Others said they were put on the night shift working from 8pm to 8am with minimal breaks.
The Chongqing factory is operated by Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, and also produces for other brands.
Labor rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior released the report claiming students aged 16 to 19 were working on Apple Watch Production lines (file photo)
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on today’s protest. The company previously told CNN Business that it found ‘no student interns working on Apple products’ after it audited the Quanta’s Chongqing factory three times between March and June.
The U.S. titan has sold tens of millions of Apple Watches – which can cost up to US$1,499 (£1,144) – since it was launched three years ago and chief executive Tim Cook said it was the most popular watch in the world.
Student activists from top Chinese schools are rallying behind labour rights and unions despite crackdowns from universities and the police this year.
Many belong to Marxist societies or student groups – some of which have struggled to register officially with their schools – as universities try to rein in labour activism.
In August, a police raid swept up student activists in Guangdong province, according to the official website of the Jasic Workers Solidarity group.
The students were there to support workers from Jasic Technology, a welding machinery company, who were trying to form their own union.
According to the Jasic Workers Solidarity group, which the student activists were members of, the police beat students and confiscated their phones during the raid.
One Peking University student, Yue Xin, who co-authored a petition demanding details of a sexual abuse case at the school, was detained during the August police sweep and has not been heard from since.
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