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Apple Watch supplier under fire over China student labour

Beijing

APPLE is investigating a factory in southwest China after a labour rights group said the tech giant's supplier forced student workers to work "like robots" to assemble its popular Apple Watch.

The report raises fresh questions about the practices of suppliers Apple uses to build its gadgets in the country following the deaths of a number of workers in 2010 apparently linked to tough working conditions.

Many of the students were compelled to work in order to get their vocational degrees and had to do night shifts, according to an investigation by Hong Kong-based NGO Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom).

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Sacom interviewed 28 students at the plant in Chongqing municipality over the summer, and all of them said they had not voluntarily applied to work there, according to the report published last week.

They worked under the guise of "internships", Sacom said, a practice rights groups say is widespread in China as manufacturers pair up with vocational schools to supply workers and fill labour shortages when they ramp up production.

"Our graduation certificate will be withheld by the school if we refuse to come," said one student majoring in e-commerce, according to Sacom. The US titan has sold tens of millions of Apple Watches - which can cost up to US$1,499 - since it was launched three years ago.

Student workers told Sacom student labour was widespread at the factory. Assembly lines that repieced together Apple Watches that had failed a quality check were almost entirely made up of student workers, one intern told Sacom. AFP