HP Sets New Rules for Student Labor in China

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) has put its corporate foot down. The company told its Chinese manufacturing partners to stop using student "interns" as cheap labor to build its high-tech products.

Sound familiar? Apple ( AAPL) has reported the same problem. And the gadget maker is now asking its partners to supply them with student-employment data to see exactly what's going on.

According to the New York Times, HP is taking the fight to the next level. It reportedly told partners that all student employment must be completely voluntary and that those students must be able to leave their jobs at any time they want without being punished for doing so. The jobs should also have some sort of connection with students' field of study.

The problem has been well-documented. In order to keep prices down, Chinese factories are turning to schools to keep their production lines going 24/7. The high-school age teens seek part-time jobs when school is in recess but are pressured to stay on during peak manufacturing months. Worker turnover is high, and manufacturers constantly need new sources of labor to fill their grueling and boring jobs.

HP is also demanding that student/intern labor be no more than 20% of the total workforce at the factory during peak manufacturing periods -- and possibly half that number in the future. Foxconn (the contract builder for HP and Apple) says student labor usually hovers around 2.7% during the year.

-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet's senior technology correspondent.