AMSTERDAM – Western European universities spend billions on IT equipment produced by young Chinese students who are forced to work on production lines during so-called internships, a human rights group alleged today.

Findings from an investigation conducted Wistron's factory in Zhongshan, Guangdong, China, reportedly have subsequently led a pair of blue chip OEMs to suspend use of interns on their production lines.

The Wistron factory in Zhongshan produces servers for HP, Dell and Lenovo, the report indicates.

In the report titled "Servants of Servers," published today, the GoodElectronics Network alleges "irrelevant internships," mass violations of working hour limits, and other frauds. The rights group asserts Wistron's actions constitute a "gross violation" of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on forced labor. Students who refused to complete the internship are denied their diploma, the group added.

Presented with the findings, HP and Dell reportedly acknowledged several violations and have temporarily suspended the use of student interns at their production lines at the plant, GoodElectronics said.

The report quotes Xu Min, 19, who is studying accounting and has been forced to spend three to five months working at Wistron factory: “We are standing at the assembly line the whole day, doing the same task again and again. It has nothing to do with my education. None of us wants to be here. We are all depressed, but we have no choice, because the school told us that if we refused, we would not get our diploma. The work is exhausting.”

GoodElectronics Network spokesperson Pauline Overeem said: “The problem of forced student labor in the electronics industry is widespread in China, Thailand and the Philippines. But the case of the Wistron factory in Zhongshan doesn’t stand on its own. It is good to know that HP and Dell take these signals seriously, but it is high time that brands and manufacturers across the board take determined action to ensure decent working conditions without any form of forced labor at their suppliers.”

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