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30 Jan 2022

Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian (UK)

China: Whistleblower demands Amazon apology following claims of being jailed and tortured for exposing use of child labour in Alexa factory

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"Alexa whistleblower demands Amazon apology after being jailed and tortured" 30 January 2022

A whistleblower who exposed illegal working conditions in a factory making Amazon’s Alexa devices says he was tortured before being jailed by Chinese authorities.

Tang Mingfang, 43, was jailed after he revealed how the Foxconn factory in the southern Chinese city of Hengyang used schoolchildren working illegally long hours to manufacture Amazon’s popular Echo, Echo Dot and Kindle devices.

Now, after spending two years in prison, he is appealing to the higher courts to clear his name. He has taken the difficult decision to talk publicly, despite being aware of the risks of reprisals, because he believes Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, have a responsibility to support his appeal and that the Observer also has a responsibility to highlight his case. [...]

He described how he was beaten by his interrogators, handcuffed in stress positions until he could take no more and signed a confession to the crime of infringing trade secrets. [...]

Amazon did not answer specific questions put by the Observer, but a spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate violations of our supply chain standards. We regularly assess suppliers, using independent auditors as appropriate, to monitor continued compliance and improvement – if we find violations, we take appropriate steps, including requesting immediate corrective action.”

In a letter to Bezos – who is worth an estimated £137bn – Tang urged him to ensure that workers’ rights were protected. “Although the price was too high for me, I think the price I paid will all be worth it if only this situation can be brought to your attention and benefit the employees of all Amazon suppliers,” he wrote. “Finally, as your faithful admirer, as a former employee of your company’s client, as a victim, as a son, husband, father, I would like to ask the following of you. Please ask Hengyang Foxconn to face up to its own problems, apologise to me, and come forward and communicate with the local court to assist me in the appeal of my case, so that the court can finally revoke my guilty verdict.” [...]

China Labor Watch director Li Qiang also wrote to Bezos urging him to intervene on behalf of Tang. [...] He said Bezos had not responded to his letter and Amazon had not offered any support for Tang.