Interns working in China’s huge apparel and textiles industry have been found to suffer working conditions which amount to “forced labour” under international law.

Tim de Meyer, director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Country Office for China and Mongolia, called for a regulatory framework to govern interns at the launch of a report into the issue, Labour Protection of Interns in Chinese Textile and Apparel Enterprises, held in association with the Chinese National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC).

The launch was part of the CNTAC Annual Conference on Social Responsibility of the Chinese Textile and Apparel Industry, held in Beijing.

The ILO said that Chinese companies in the sector had been expanding internship programmes for school and college students for some years, with the vast majority of the 290 interns surveyed describing their placements as a useful learning experience.

However, 52.1% were working in conditions which fell short of national standards, and 14.8% carried “involuntary and coercive” work during their internships.

The ILO said a “significant proportion” were working without adequate legal protection, given their young age and subordinate position.