Friday briefing: Alexa’s China child labour scandal | World news
Top story: ‘I had no choice,’ says teenage Foxconn worker
Good morning briefers. I’m Martin Farrer and it’s my pleasure to bring you the top stories to help you through the last day of the working week.
Schoolchildren in China have been recruited to work in factories to produce Amazon’s Alexa devices as part of an often illegal attempt to meet exacting production targets for the smart-speaker products, the Guardian can reveal. Interviews with children and leaked documents from Amazon’s Chinese supplier, Foxconn, show that some youngsters have been asked to work nights and overtime in the factory in Hengyang in breach of Chinese labour laws. The children have been drafted in from local schools and classed as “interns”, with teachers paid to accompany them to work and pressurise their pupils to take on extra work in return for improved employment prospects at the factory. One pupil said she worked up to 10 hours a day in sweltering conditions. “I had no choice, I could only endure this,” she says. According to company documents, Foxconn pays “interns” a basic wage of £1.18 an hour. Alexa devices start from around £50 for a basic Echo Dot model.
When confronted by the documents, Foxconn admitted employing children to work overtime and nights. The company, which also makes iPhones for Apple, said it had taken “immediate action to fix the situation”. Amazon, which is led by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, said it would not tolerate violations of its code of conduct.
‘Abuse of power’ – Jeremy Corbyn has called on Whitehall’s most senior civil servant to clarify electoral rules in an effort to prevent Boris Johnson forcing through a no-deal Brexit during an election campaign amid growing signs that Britain could be heading back to the polls in the autumn. In his letter to cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, the Labour leader says it would be an “unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power” if the prime minister lost a no-confidence vote on no deal in September but hung on to power long enough to hold an election after the Brexit deadline of 31 October. Corbyn says electoral rules are meant to prevent governments taking major policy decisions during an election campaign. It came as No 10 refused to rule out delaying an election until immediately after 31 October if one is triggered by MPs voting down Johnson’s government and failing to form another administration. The prospect of such a vote increased after Johnson’s majority was reduced to one last week. Johnson also said yesterday that spending plans would be fast-tracked in order to free up departments to concentrate on Brexit.
Belfast bonfire – Republicans went ahead with a huge bonfire in north Belfast last night to mark the anniversary of the internment of terror suspects in the 1971 after police abandoned an attempt to prevent the structure of wooden pallets from being burned. Riot officers were pelted with bricks, bottles and other projectiles after they moved in to the New Lodge area of the city on Thursday afternoon to shut down the unauthorised event. Assistant chief constable Alan Todd accused the ringleaders of using women and children as human shields, forcing police to withdraw.
Arms ‘disgrace’ – Officials from Hong Kong have been invited by the government to attend a major arms fair in London despite a promise by ministers to halt exports of teargas to the crisis-hit territory. The invitation to the DSEI show, which showcases security and military products, was confirmed by Liz Truss’s international trade department. Anti-arms campaigners said it was a “disgrace” that Hong Kong police were using UK-made weapons against protesters and that they had been encouraged to buy more. Meanwhile, the US has called China a “thuggish regime” for targeting an American diplomat who met some demonstrators.
Italian turmoil – Italy is set for more political instability after the leader of the country’s far-right League party called for new elections after declaring that he could no longer work with his coalition partners. Last night’s move by Matteo Salvini comes after months of fighting between his party and the Five Star Movement (M5S), who came together last year after their populist message swept aside Italy’s established order in elections last year. The bickering came to a head this week when M5S failed to prevent the go-ahead of a plan to build a high-speed rail link to France.
Kashmir tensions – After India’s decision this week to strip Kashmir of its autonomy and divide it in two, tensions with Pakistan have risen to new heights. A strict curfew and a communications blackout mean very little news has emerged from the disputed region. But in one of the first accounts from the streets of the main city, Srinangar, our reporters tell of a place under siege. Heavily armed Indian troops have replaced local police on every street corner and roads are permanently blocked by loops of barbed wire. One resident says: “When a child looks out from a window, he sees Indian forces with heavy weapons. What sort of impression would he get on his mind? Will you win the people of Kashmir by love or with the gun or power?”
Today in Focus podcast: why Newcastle United fans want Ashley out
As the Premier League season kicks off this weekend, David Conn examines the fraught relationship between Newcastle United fans and the club’s owner, Mike Ashley, that has led to thousands of supporters threatening to boycott Sunday’s home game against Arsenal. Plus, Ammar Kalia on the Miss England beauty contest.
Lunchtime read: Francis Ford Coppola and the final Apocalypse
It is 40 years since the release of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary film exploring human morality in the Vietnam war. To mark the anniversary, Coppola, now aged 80, has re-edited his epic work to produce the “Final Cut”, which he hopes will restore some of the film’s radical edge. Kevin EG Perry has travelled to Coppola’s estate in the Napa Valley to talk to him about the new edition and discovers that the director doesn’t view the film as anti-war, admitting that it glorifies violence. Coppola also ruminates on the chasm that separates the new Hollywood from the famously chaotic filming of Apocalypse (“…Dennis Hopper, God knows what he was doing), but says that young film-makers are still taking risks. “We’re in a blossoming of cinema art, I feel. It’s just that they do it with their parent’s credit cards.”
Jürgen Klopp believes Liverpool will improve this season without new signings and 98 points may not be required to win the Premier League given increased competition among the leading pack. A ban on tackling above the waist is to be trialled in a radical attempt to make rugby union a safer sport. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have rejoined the ATP players’ council, an intriguing twist to the power struggle at the top of the men’s game. And the American gymnast, Simone Biles, was in tears as she spoke about the anger and disappointment she feels about the handling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
There’s more drama for the once-untouchable City fund manager Neil Woodford as Hargreaves Lansdown waived £2m in fees for nearly 300,000 customers locked in his suspended flagship fund. And Burford Capital, which Woodford is a large investor, has accused a US hedge fund of making “false and misleading” claims that have wiped more than £1bn off its value, and warned the accusations could amount to market manipulation. In the US, Uber lost $5bn in the last three months, its worst ever quarterly loss, sending its shares down by 10%. The company claims its big investment programme will bear fruit in coming years but investors are nervous. Future trading suggests the FTSE100 will open flat this morning. The pound is buying $1.213 and €1.084.
Johnson’s plan to entice top scientists to the UK leads on the i: “PM scraps migrant cap to lure top scientists” but the Times carries a warning from a leading British scientist on the announcement: “Don’t take us for fools, top scientist warns PM”. The Telegraph reports on: “Johnson’s election spending spree” and the Express carries the story of another spending pledge: “Boris blitz on violent thugs”.
The Guardian has a warning from the opposition leader: “Corbyn: Johnson plotting abuse of power to force no-deal Brexit”.
The Sun reports on a wounded officer who overpowered an attacker, despite having been stabbed in the head: “Britain’s hardest copper”. The Mirror has a call from a group of young campaigners: “End our knife hell”.
The FT says: “Kraft Heinz tumbles over fresh $1bn writedown and falling sales” and the Mail reports: “Church attacks Rooney’s gambling firm deal”.
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