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Apple iPhone maker Foxconn raises age limit for workers following controversial past

Foxconn has reportedly raised the age requirement for new workers being recruited for its factory in Zhengzhou, China, where rumour has it Apple's next-generation iPhones are currently being assembled.

The contract manufacturing giant is now requiring new workers at the facility to be at least 23 years old, whereas 18 was previously the minimum age for workers at the plant, DigiTimes has reported. A maximum age of 40 for new recruits remains the same, according to the Taiwanese tech journal.

DigiTimes cited "some market watchers" who speculated that the revised age requirement is "meant to accelerate [Foxconn's] progress to automation" at the Zhengzhou facility, though others noted that "the adjustment is meant to correspond to the local government's labor policies."

The Zhengzhou plant in northern China is reportedly in the process of ramping production of Apple's seventh-generation iPhone, which, according to speculation, could be released this September, followed by a lower-priced smartphone aimed at emerging markets a few weeks later.

DigiTimes reported last week that Apple's premier manufacturing partner in Asia was making a hiring push at its Zhengzhou facility "specifically for production of a new iPhone model," though Foxconn itself has described increased hiring as an effort to meet seasonal labour demands.

The Zhengzhou factory complex is one of Foxconn's main facilities for producing iPhones, including the current-generation iPhone 5. It's also experienced some of the labour relations problems that have marred Taiwan-based Foxconn's often controversial manufacturing efforts for Apple.

Last year, several thousand Zhengzhou workers reportedly went on strike over stringent quality control standards for the iPhone 5, though Foxconn denied that a strike had occurred. In May, it was reported that as many as three Zhengzhou workers committed suicide by jumping from heights — such incidents have also happened periodically at Foxconn-run factories in China over the past several years, resulting in about two dozen worker deaths.

In recent years, Foxconn has come under fire from labour rights groups alleging such worker-unfriendly practices as underage hiring, forced overtime, and union-busting. Accidents at the contract manufacturer's mainland China plants have also raised workplace safety concerns.

Last year, Apple commissioned the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to conduct inspections and audits of facilities run by its final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn. The FLA presented Foxconn with a set of recommendations for changing some of its labour and safety practices, which the contract manufacturer says it has followed, though some labour groups remained critical of the FLA auditing results and Foxconn's behaviour.