Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Co. (IW 1000/804) has confirmed that it employed children as young as 14 at a plant in China, in a fresh blow to the company that has been attacked over its treatment of workers following several suicides.

Foxconn, which manufactures products for Apple Inc. (IW 1000/28) and Sony Corp. (IW 1000/39), made the admission following reports by a rights group and mainland media that students in an internship program at the plant had been under the legal age of 16.

"This is not only a violation of China's labor law, it is also a violation of Foxconn policy and immediate steps have been taken to return the interns in question to their educational institutions," the company said in a statement late Tuesday.

Foxconn, the world's biggest contract manufacturer, said it conducted a probe at the plant in Shandong province concluding that the interns in question -- who were between 14 and 16 years old -- had worked in the plant for about three weeks.

"We have found no evidence of similar violations in any of our other campuses in China but we will not hesitate to take immediate action in any campus if any violations are discovered," the company said.

The company issued the statement after Chinese media and U.S.-based China Labor Watch reported on the use of underage workers at the plant.

Foxconn said it has long had a short-term internship program carried out in cooperation with vocational schools and other educational institutions in China.

Interns represent approximately 2.7% of its workforce of 1.2 million employees in China, it added.

The news is the latest in a string of problems to beset Foxconn, which frequently has been targeted for its labor practices following a spate of apparent suicides in 2010 that activists blamed on tough working conditions, prompting calls for better treatment of staff.

And earlier this month the company was hit by two labor disputes that saw thousands of people go on strike, which China Labor Watch said was spurred by increased product-quality levels and demands that staff work through a national holiday.

Foxconn is the world's largest maker of computer components and assembles products for Apple and Sony as well as Intel and Nokia, among others.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012