Samsung, as Apple did before it, is experiencing what it means to be the device maker on which the world is focused.
New York-based China Labor Watch, the company that shined a spotlight on Apple assembly partner Foxconn Technology, is now looking at the working conditions at Huizhou, China-based HEG Electronics, which makes phones and DVD players for Samsung. On Aug. 6, the not-for-profit group released a 31-page report on the conditions it encountered during a series of investigations.
An initial investigation found seven children under the age of 16 working in the HEG factory, suggesting "child labor is a common practice in the factory," the group said in a press release. Further investigations led it to estimate that between 50 and 100 children are working in the factory. The group also estimates that student workers comprise 80 percent of the factory's workforce.
"These children are working under the same harsh conditions as adult workers, but were paid only 70 percent of the wages when compared with the formal employees," China Labor Watch said in its statement. "Moreover, these child workers were often required to carry out dangerous tasks that resulted in injury."
The group said it additionally found violations regarding:
- Issues of discrimination, based on age, sex and "individuality during the hiring process."
- Excessive work hours, including 11-hour shifts with three to five hours of forced overtime, and work 26 to 28 days per month. The group also called HEG's attendance system "defective and unfair, negatively influencing the physical and mental health of the student and child workers."
- Legal issues regarding HEG's labor contract, remuneration system, and "reward and punishment system."
- Night-shift workers are given only one 30-40 minute meal break during their 11-hour shift.
Samsung, on its Samsung Tomorrow Website, blogged Aug. 9 that the report findings are inconsistent with inspections that it has conducted at the HEG facility. Nonetheless, it has dispatched in-house inspectors to the Huizhou facility from Samsung's Seoul headquarters, and they will "immediately launch a comprehensive investigation, whose findings will determine the necessary measures to take in correcting any problems and issues that may be uncovered at HEG."
It continued, "Over the years, Samsung has strived to ensure that the company's business partners in China, which include manufacturers like HEG, comply with local labor laws and environmental regulations. This, of course, includes prohibiting the employment of minors under 16 years of age."
In April 2011, Samsung established a Board of Compliance for Chinese Business partners and in October 2007 joined the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition.
While Samsung manufactures many of its own products and holds itself to the highest standards, the site added, when it does outsource manufacturing, it "strives to ensure that its business partners implement and adhere to labor and environmental standards that are as strict as those at Samsung's own facilities."
In 2010, a string of worker suicides lead to investigations into the working conditions at Foxconn, a manufacturer that has partnered with seemingly every major electronics brand and then some. While Apple was only one of these companies-and while CEO Tim Cook insisted that it Apple held its partners to the highest standards in the industry-it became the focus of the investigations after an explosion in an iPad factory killed one worker and injured several others.
Apple conducted a high-level investigation into the working conditions at Foxconn, and also hired the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate.
In the most optimistic terms, Apple was offered a PR opportunity, conditions were improved to some degree and Foxconn workers were said to receive raises.