Child labour claims cast cloud over Samsung

Despite a pledge by South Korean electronics giant, underage workers are still being used by its suppliers

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:10

The situation at the factory in Dongguan underscores some of the challenges multinational corporations face in sourcing goods from here. Wages and working conditions in China have steadily improved over the last decade.

But ensuring that supplier factories comply with guidelines set by global brands, as well as China’s labour laws, is difficult, even though larger factories are regularly audited by outside inspectors.

Many global brands have struggled with labour problems in their Chinese operations. In the last few years, Apple has come under scrutiny in China over labour and safety problems, notably a spate of worker suicides and unrest at facilities run by its biggest contract manufacturer, the Taiwanese company Foxconn.

Apple declined to comment for this article, but the company has said it has taken steps to address labour issues in its supply chain, including deeper audits on its partners and a programme that punishes suppliers that hire underage workers.

Now, Samsung is also the target of labour rights activists.

Labour rights

In a report released last Thursday, China Labour Watch, which is based in New York, accused Samsung of allowing a supplier in Dongguan to hire underage workers, cheating those workers on pay, denying them overtime wages and failing to give them government-mandated labour contracts.

“After allegedly inspecting hundreds of Chinese suppliers, Samsung did not find one child worker,” China Labor Watch said in a statement released on Thursday. “Yet in just one Samsung supplier factory, CLW has uncovered several children employed without labour contracts, working 11 hours per day and only being paid for 10 of those hours.”

For the past decade, labour rights groups have tried to draw attention to labour abuse and health and safety violations in some of China’s biggest factories. They often send young activists to work undercover in the workshops, document conditions, secretly interview workers and examine their pay stubs and employment contracts.

In the Samsung case, a young activist at China Labour Watch was hired by the Dongguan factory and began collecting evidence and making friends with workers suspected of being underage.

According to the account by the labour rights group, the activist ate with the three young girls, and also with two young boys who were believed to be underage, and secretly recorded their conversations.

The activist also took photographs of conditions inside the Shinyang facility, which is owned and managed by a company in South Korea. The Dongguan factory now works exclusively for Samsung to produce plastic components for mobile phones.

A Shinyang spokeswoman, who gave her name as Fang, said in a telephone interview that Samsung audited the company on June 25th and that the auditors found no evidence of workers below age 18, let alone 16.

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