Samsung slammed for alleged worker mistreatment in China

The investigation comes a day after Samsung said it would audit its suppliers in China

A labor rights group has accused Samsung of "illegal and inhumane violations" at its factories in China, reporting cases of excessive overtime and exhausting working conditions, with employees being made to stand for up to 12 hours for a single shift.

By interviewing workers and going undercover as employees, New York-based China Labor Watch said Tuesday it had investigated eight factories in China, six of which were Samsung-owned, the other two being suppliers to the company.

In all the factories but one, the group said it found that workers' overtime for at least half of the year reached or exceeded 100 hours per month. In some instances, workers were given only one day off a month. At a Samsung factory in Tianjin that produces mobile displays, overtime can reach 186 hours during months of peak demand, the labor group said.

Four of the factories forced employees to work overtime, China Labor Watch said. But in general, workers at other factories choose to log the extra hours to supplement their low salaries, which can vary from US$200 to $250 a month. With overtime during the busy season, workers can bring their total monthly wages to between $600 and $800.

China Labor Watch released its report on Tuesday, just a day after Samsung said it planned to audit 249 of its suppliers in China in response to earlier criticism from the same watchdog group.

China Labor Watch said in August that it had found seven workers under the age of 16 at a Samsung supplier based in the city of Huizhou. While Samsung said Monday its own investigation found no underage workers, it did discover instances of unsafe work practices and pledged to drop suppliers who fail to act when violations are uncovered.

Scrutiny of electronics manufacturing in China has been on the rise amid reports of poor working conditions at factories. Apple has also come under fire, for conditions at factories run by its manufacturing partner Foxconn.

Samsung has 12 factories in China that it directly owns and operates, according to China Labor Watch. But the company also uses dozens of suppliers to manufacture products such as smartphones, displays, speakers and DVD players.

Workers at the factories are often stripped of their legal rights without their knowledge, according to the watchdog group. In many cases, workers sign incomplete contracts or have no contract at all with the factory or labor firm that placed them there.

China Labor Watch also accused Samsung of deliberately hiring only young female workers at its factories. It does this because they are "more cooperative and less able to defend their own rights," the labor group said. The recruiting ages can sometimes be between 16 and 23. Some factories were found hiring directly from vocational schools in China, a common practice among manufacturers there.

The 122-page report offers a glimpse of working life at the factories, and also shows how conditions can be worse at Samsung's suppliers. For instance, base pay at Tianjin Intops, a supplier that employs 1,200 workers, is lower than at Samsung's own factories, and new hires receive no training. Workers' overtime at the factory reaches 100 to 150 hours per month depending on production needs.

China Labor Watch urged Samsung to launch third-party audits of its factories and to create hotlines for workers to express grievances.

Samsung couldn't immediately comment on the report Tuesday as it had not had time to study it. In its response Monday to the earlier report, Samsung said it has a "zero tolerance policy" for child labor and that it was establishing an "urgent and broad plan" to ensure its factories and suppliers' factories conform to local labor laws and to Samsung's policies.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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