A quilt factory in Shaanxi's Qishan county was caught using juvenile workers who were forced to work 12 hours a day without pay for nearly six months. The labour scandal was uncovered last week when Yuan Feng, a reporter with the Sanqin Daily, was investigating a tip that the factory was processing unsterilised industrial materials. He discovered two workers of 'a very young age' working without any protective equipment in a processing room full of dust and cotton fibre, he said. A long period of exposure to the cotton could lead to respiratory and skin diseases. While he was checking the products he found two other teenagers sleeping in a small room behind the warehouse. The two said they did not know their ages and did not have identity cards. Yuan reported his findings at the factory later that day. The story was picked up by the county's Labour Bureau and Bureau of Industry and Commerce. The authorities found four workers aged 14 to 16 years, and four tonnes of industrial cotton. The four workers, three from Gansu and the other from Hubei, had been working 12 hours a day since February and had not been paid, Yuan said. 'The children were doing the job voluntarily because they come from a very poor area and the factory owner provided food and accommodation,' he said. The factory was sealed off and the owner was ordered to report to the Labour Bureau today. He is expected be fined 5,000 yuan for each underage worker. The juveniles will be sent back to their homes. The scandal follows public outrage over reports that hundreds of teenagers, migrant workers and mentally ill people had been forced to work without pay for years in brick kilns in Shanxi . Some worked 14 to 20 hours a day in inhumane conditions. Beijing quickly announced that a nationwide crackdown on enslavement and underage labour would be launched. Liu Erduo, deputy dean of the School of Labour and Human Resources at Renmin University, said child labour could not easily be eradicated on the mainland, given an historically agrarian culture where children were expected to help out. 'Children are expected to work in the field or help the family when they can,' he said. 'People in rural families have no idea that child labour is unlawful and it's unlikely to change for a long time.' He said child labour in smaller cities and towns was often tacitly approved by local authorities, and suggested more education and media coverage to help remedy the problem. He urged local governments to continue conducting inspections for child workers.