China Labor Watch has discovered "severe labor abuses" at six Samsung-owned factories and two of its suppliers, according to a report the organization released this week. During a four-month investigation, CLW found that employees at eight factories were subject to a "long list" of abuses, including forced and excessive overtime hours, unpaid labor, and physical and verbal abuse. Nearly all workers were forced to stand for up to 12 hours at a time, and many faced discrimination based on age, gender, and personal appearance.
The group also claims that at least three factories are employing underage workers. Last month, CLW made similar allegations against HEG Electronics, a Chinese supplier for Samsung, Motorola, and LG. Samsung rejected these claims after its auditors found no cases of underage employment, but CLW now says that the issue extends well beyond HEG. "Rather, these problems are rampant throughout the entire Samsung manufacturing and supply network in China," the organization said in a press release.
"The list of illegal and inhumane violations is long."
CLW's latest report examines eight China-based factories that collectively employ some 24,000 people. The largest, Huizhou-based SHEZ, employs approximately 10,000 workers in total, and is 99 percent Samsung-owned. The factories produce a wide variety of Samsung products, including mobile phones, displays, DVD players, and home appliances. CLW conducted its study from May to August of this year, sending investigators disguised as employees into each plant, and conducting interviews with workers outside the factories.
CLW says conditions were generally worse at supplier factories, with Tianjin Intops standing out as one of the most ignominious. There, all employees must stand for 11 hours a day, and are required to construct one cell phone case every five seconds. Nearly all 1,200 employees are female dispatch workers, who, during peak seasons, must work up to 150 overtime hours per month — well above the legal limit of 36.
In its report, CLW said Samsung "can and must improve labor conditions" at its plants, suggesting that the company implement worker hotlines through which employees can express their grievances, and that it conduct more third-party audits, rather than internal audits. The organization also recommended that Samsung allow factory workers to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.
"Labor violations aren’t restricted to Samsung."
Samsung, for its part, acknowledges that workers are sometimes required to work overtime, and says it will continue to evaluate practices at all of its China plants, as well as those owned by its suppliers. "We partly agree with the report that there are times when workers need to work overtime at some plants, especially when we launch new products or build new manufacturing lines," spokesman James Chung told the Wall Street Journal. "We will conduct an evaluation on the work-hour practices at all of those plants."
CLW spokesman Kevin Slaten told Bloomberg that labor abuses "aren’t restricted to Samsung and are a problem in the electronics industry." In fact, the organization is already conducting an investigation at plants that manufacture products for Dell, HP, and Microsoft, and plans to reevaluate Samsung's factories at a later date to determine whether any improvements have been made.