Samsung criticized for long work hours at supplier factories in China

Samsung's new measures to correct its suppliers' labor violations aren't enough for some critics

Despite Samsung Electronics' efforts to rectify labor violations at its factories in China, little has changed for some workers.

"Samsung had its investigators come to the factory. When they came, they just walked around a bit, that's all," said a security guard surnamed Wu, who works at Chitwing Mould Industry, a factory in Dongguan, China, that builds phone casings for Samsung and other brands including Lenovo and Huawei Technologies.

"There's been no real change. It's still the same," he said.

The factory continues to fine workers for being late, despite claims by Samsung that its suppliers have ended the practice, Wu said, adding that asking for a personal leave or sick day will also result in a day's wages lost.

Wu's remarks echoed criticism of the company -- and other Samsung suppliers -- in a report by China Labor Watch, which has called out the company for a "persistent list of problems" at the facilities and is demanding more be done.

The criticism came on Monday, the same day Samsung announced the results of its own investigation into 105 suppliers in China that make products for the company. Through those audits, Samsung found instances of excessive overtime, labor contracts being mishandled, and fines being given out to workers for tardiness -- all of which violated established labor regulations, according to the company.

While Samsung declined to describe the scale of the problems, New York-based China Labor Watch issued its own report on the working conditions, and said the factories continue to sign on workers with "blank labor contracts", which say nothing of the job's pay, position or contract period. Certain Samsung-owned factories are also still limiting hires to women aged 16 to 24, despite the company's commitment against hiring discrimination, and workers are also required to stand all day in order to increase productivity.

"Samsung promises that it will improve labor conditions at its factories, but the key is if and how they can truly institute and monitor the new policies they have established," China Labor Watch said in a statement. "Samsung uses an audit system to monitor factories, but audits are renowned for their lack of reliability."

China Labor Watch also investigated Chitwing Mould Industry. The average work day there lasts between 15 and 16 hours, and monthly overtime can reach beyond 220 hours, according to the group's interviews with company employees. This violates Chinese regulations, which say monthly overtime cannot surpass 36 hours.

Wu, the security guard, said workers at the factory earn about 3,000 yuan a month (US$478), but at the cost of spending at least 12 hours each day in the week assembling products.

"The workers are willing to work here, but there's not much alternative for them either," he said. "They want to make money, but that means exhaustion. They want a better life, so they decide to work longer."

Samsung declined to respond to China Labor Watch's report. But in Monday's announcement, the company said it had already corrected problems with the way labor contracts were handled, and said employees will receive a copy of the labor contract they sign with their supplier. Samsung also abolished supplier-imposed penalties on workers for absences or lateness, and pledged to find ways to keep workers' overtime within legal limits by the end of 2014.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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