HEG Electronics, a Chinese factory that manufactures products for Samsung, Motorola, and LG, has been accused of knowingly employing underage workers and violating other labor laws. New York-based human rights group China Labor Watch claims a preliminary investigation uncovered seven factory workers under 16, including a girl who had no official identification but said she was 14. Based on later investigations and estimates, CLW estimates HEG could have between 50 and 100 underage workers in the 2,000-person factory, performing the work of adults while being paid 70 percent as much as their older counterparts.
Worse, the factory appears to have been aware it was employing underage workers. Since students working as "interns" are a large part of the seasonal workforce, it's possible for teachers to forge credentials or vouch for students. But CLW says it found that even after the company discovered some of its workers were too young, it continued to employ them, moving them to rented dormitories outside factory grounds to keep them from being discovered. The 14-year-old student worker also apparently says she was fired because a manager worried her real age would be uncovered by an upcoming audit.
A 14-year-old student worker says she was fired so her real age wouldn't be uncovered by an audit
It's less clear whether Samsung (HEG's primary partner) or other companies were aware of these alleged abuses. Samsung has responded to the report, telling Bloomberg that it "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." Unfortunately, one service that claims to have performed audits for Samsung also allegedly accepted bribes from factories.
"Samsung conducted two separate on-site inspections this year but found no irregularities."
Besides the accusations of employing young workers, the report describes conditions that — while not unusual for these factories — still violate Chinese law. Employees are reportedly given mandatory overtime, working 11 hours a day for 26 to 28 days a month. They are also allegedly not given a copy of their contract, meaning that they "know very little about their rights, benefits, and wages." Student workers, who are estimated to sometimes make up 80 percent of the workforce, take home about 750 yuan ($119 US) a month, well below the average minimum wage of 950 yuan, and they may be fined for minor offenses or even things like discovering defects in Samsung products.
While HEG isn't nearly as massive as Foxconn, its labor practices are significantly worse if this report is to be believed. It almost certainly isn't the only factory with these sorts of abuses, but by shining a light on prominent examples, it may be possible to raise the bar for others as well.