Samsung investigating Chinese child labor abuse allegations

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Samsung on Tuesday announced it is investigating child labor abuse allegations stemming from an undercover report released Monday, which claims the company's Chinese manufacturer HEG is employing workers as young as 14.

In the 31-page undercover report, labor advocacy group China Labor Watch outlines a number of alleged abuses including underage workers, physical abuse and excessive overtime at HEG's mainland China facility, reports Laptop Magazine.

In response, Samsung issued the following statement:

Samsung Electronics has conducted two separate on-site inspections on HEG’s working conditions this year but found no irregularities on those occasions. Given the report, we will conduct another field survey at the earliest possible time to ensure our previous inspections have been based on full information and to take appropriate measures to correct any problems that may surface. Samsung Electronics is a company held to the highest standards of working conditions and we try to maintain that at our facilities and the facilities of partner companies around the world.

According to China Labor Watch, HEG's factory is responsible for manufacturing Samsung smartphones, MP3 players and audio components, among other products.

Photo of alleged child workers at Samsung manufacturer HEG. | Source: China Labor Watch

The report breaks down alleged offenses by category:

  • Child Labor Abuse "Based on our investigation, there are around 2,000 workers in HEG currently. During the summer and winter vacation, a rise in student workers can be easily observed. During these periods, student workers may constitute more than 80% of the factory workforce, 20% higher than usual. Based on our investigation and the appearance of these student workers, most of them are under 18, and they receive not a bit of special protection from the factory." According to the report, child workers are hired due to "slack internal supervision mechanisms" involving the checking of IDs, while some of the blame falls on vocational school teachers who take advantage of the loophole "to serve their own interests." It is unclear if the educators get a cut of their students' wages or are rewarded by the factory for supplying workers. The report goes on to list the names of child workers investigated.
  • Hiring Discrimination The report claims female applicants to HEG must be between the ages of 16 and 30 while males are subject to unwritten rules barring those with tattoos, long hair or disabilities.
  • Excessive Overtime Factory stipulations mandate a five-day workweek with an eight-hour workday, but the report alleges the system actually breaks down to 11 hours a day for six days a week. Overtime is required.
  • Labor Contracts, Wage Rates, Reward and Punishment System HEG allegedly asks employees to sign two labor contracts but does not furnish the worker with a copy and fails to inform them of rights, benefits and wages. An award and punishment system is also said to be in effect, though the advocacy group claims HEG never rewards employees and "punishes them for reporting defects." These fines run up to $79 for each offense.
  • Appalling Cafeteria and Dormitory Conditions Meals are provided in the cafeteria though no subsidy exists for those workers who choose to eat on their own. Work hours and cafeteria hours are sometimes incongruent and workers may only be able to eat once but will be charged for the entire day. Prior to June 2012, workers who chose not to live in the on-site dormitories would receive a $16 per month subsidy due to space constraints, however that structure has been terminated as the company moved to a larger location.
  • Lack of Safety Education and Labor Protection China Labor Watch notes that employees interviewed were not familiar with environment, health and safety protocols despite being sent to work safety training. "The main chemical that workers are exposed to while working is ethyl alcohol. They only have one opportunity per day to get new protective gloves from the supervisor if the gloves are worn out." High temperatures within the factory are also an issue.

Samsung maintains the HEG factory passed muster in a recent audit, but the company plans to investigate further.

Chinese factory working conditions has become a hot-button topic, with much of the controversy directed at Apple and its manufacturing partner Foxconn. An exposé monologue from orator Mike Daisey sparked concerns over child labor abuse at Foxconn's factories in mainland China, though the piece was later deemed false. At the request of Apple, a subsequent independent audit found the plants to be "first class," though some issues pertaining to workplace conditions had yet to be addressed. It was announced in May that Apple would initially be sharing the cost with Foxconn to improve the factories.


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