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Apple factories hid child workers, employees claim

The factory that produces the iPhone and iPad has been accused of hiding child workers from labour inspectors.

The factory that produces the iPhone, iPad, Xbox and other gadgets has been accused of sweeping child workers under the carpet as independent auditors inspect working conditions.

Inspections of Apple supplier Foxconn began this week, but two employees have now claimed that underage labourers were moved to different sections or assigned no overtime so they wouldn't be seen working.

The accusations were made by Hong Kong labour campaigners Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, in an interview with AppleInsider. Workers aged 16 and 17 years old can work at the plant, but with limits to what they can do and how long they can work.

SACOM also quotes a worker who claims she was given three breaks instead of the usual one during the inspections. If these revelations are true, it undermines Apple's pledge that the inspections would not be a whitewashed propaganda exercise.

Inspectors from the Fair Labour Association were invited by Apple to investigate facilities in China where manufacturer Foxconn builds many of our favourite gadgets, after a spate of suicides prompted calls for closer scrutiny of working conditions.

The FLA's first impressions were that the facility is "first-class" -- at least in comparison to clothing sweatshops -- but scratch the surface and things are clearly not as rosy as they seem. It seems the FLA has now spotted "tons of issues", and that's before today's accusations.

Reporters have also toured Foxconn City, giving us a glimpse of both the high-tech processes and dispiriting living conditions that give birth to Apple, Sony and Motorola gizmos.

Things have got so bad at some Foxconn plants that 300 staff recently threatened mass suicide over a pay row for workers building Xbox games consoles. The factory is ringed by nets to prevent bored, alienated workers from ending it all at the thought of soldering one more camera to one more iPad.

The FLA gives its full report in March, before inspecting further Apple suppliers later this year.