Samsung has become the latest big name tech brand accused of allowing widespread labour rights violations, after a new report claimed that Chinese manufacturing partner HEG is exploiting child workers as young as 14 at its Guangdong plant.
China Labor Watch (CLW), the not-for-profit organisation which last week warned a Congressional Commission of severe flaws in the auditing of such plants, released its report (PDF) today after an undercover investigation into the factory, near Huizhou. The group went to Washington to call on the committee and US government to put pressure on US companies to help fix worker conditions.
The HEG factory helps to produce mobile phones, DVDs, MP3s and other electronics for Samsung, and even has around 50 Samsung employees among the 2,000-odd staff there, the report claimed.
The investigation uncovered alleged labour rights abuses which will now be familiar to those who have read similar reports on VTech and Foxconn, including forced and excessive overtime, physical abuse by managers, dangerous conditions, and extremely low pay.
However, it is the exploitation of child labour that CLW highlighted in this report.
It’s legal to employee children over the age of 16 in China, but CLW claimed it had found seven employees under that age, including children as young as 14, and claimed there could be up to 100 more in other departments it wasn’t able to investigate.
According to our investigation, the employment of child labourers can occur firstly because of HEG’s slack internal supervision mechanisms; they never check the students’ IDs. Secondly, the teachers in that school take advantage of this loophole in the factory management in order to serve their own interests. They often provided false IDs or household registrations to those underage workers, or they mix the underage workers with their students on the pretext of internship. They thusly created an illegal channel that could allow children to be employed on a plausible pretence. Even after the company discovered the existence of child labourers in their factory, it took no actions to stop them from working and, instead, moved the children to rented dormitories off the factory grounds in order to escape detection.
The report also alleges that the HEG factory also takes advantage of huge numbers of student internships, of the sort exposed at Foxconn and VTech, and claims that Samsung's manufacturing partner pays them lower wages than other workers, refuses them sick leave, and in some cases fails to sign employment contracts with them.
CLW also alleged that, despite HEG’s claims to run a “five work days a week, hour hours a work day” plant, staff are forced to toil on their feet for 11 hours, six days a week, and claimed that they actually work 26 to 28 days per month.
As at VTech, CLW claims, there is a very strict reward and punishment system:
The management are abusive during work, sometimes hitting workers on the factory floor. Any carelessness, such as slow movements, misoperation, or late completion of team leaders’ orders could provoke the shouting of team leaders at anytime. Everyday, employees in the workshops were punished by [being made to stand] standing.
The Register contacted Samsung for comment but was still waiting at the time of publication.
If accurate, the report would yet again raise questions about the conditions at many of the plants run by manufacturing partners of big tech brands.
However, it’s not all down to the tech giants and their OEMs. The abuse of student internships and underage labour are major flaws with roots in the Chinese educational system, according to this report (PDF) from China Labour Bulletin. ®