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July 15, 2014

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Samsung facing child labor accusations

SAMSUNG Electronics said yesterday it has stopped doing business with a supplier in China suspected of using child workers, the first time it has taken such a step.

The decision came less than a week after the United States-based China Labor Watch said it found “at least five child workers” without contracts at the supplier, and called Samsung’s efforts to prevent such practices “ineffective.”

The world’s biggest smartphone maker, said that since last year it had conducted three audits of the supplier, a wholly owned subsidiary of South Korea’s Shinyang Engineering, the latest of which ended on June 25.

But an investigation prompted by the watchdog’s report led to evidence of what Samsung called suspected child labor, pointing to holes in the tech giant’s ability to enforce its labor guidelines for Chinese suppliers.

“The Chinese authorities are also looking into the case,” Samsung said in a statement.

It said that in line with its zero-tolerance policy on child workers it will permanently cut all ties with the supplier if the allegations are found to be true.

Labor practices at Samsung’s  Chinese suppliers have come under scrutiny since 2012, when China Labor Watch said seven people aged under 16 were working for one of the electronics giant’s China-based suppliers.

China’s labor law forbids hiring workers under 16.

The South Korean firm later said it found no evidence of child labor, though acknowledged other problems including overtime hours in excess of regulations.

In November 2012, Samsung established a code of conduct for suppliers in line with standards set by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition. It also asked suppliers to sign a compliance agreement to prevent the use of child labor.

Strict hiring process

Samsung demands suppliers adopt a strict hiring process that includes face-to-face interviews and the use of scanners to detect fake IDs to ensure no children are employed.

In a report published on June 30 the company said a third-party audit of 100 Chinese suppliers found no instances of child labor.

But the study did cite other problems, with minors of legal working age but 18 or younger found working with chemical handling processes at 48 firms and a majority of suppliers not complying with China’s overtime laws.

Samsung said it demanded immediate action to correct such behavior.

But Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, said last week that Samsung’s social responsibility reports were an “advertisement” and that its efforts so far had failed to bring improvements for workers.

“What Samsung says is not important; what’s important is their actions,” Li said.

The watchdog’s report said the child workers at Dongguan Shinyang were paid about two-thirds of the adult rate for the same job. They also had trouble getting proper food at the cafeteria due to their night-shift hours.

It reported that some of the youngsters said the supplier’s personnel did not follow a mandated facial recognition system meant to verify whether the applicant’s face matched the ID provided.

The use of child labor isn’t rare in China. Other global tech firms, including Apple, have been hit by revelations of exploitation.

Underage workers have been discovered at Foxconn, the trading name of Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry and the supplier for some of the world’s biggest tech brands.

Samsung declined to comment on details of its investigation and whether confirmation of use of child labor will affect its existing relationship with parent Shinyang Engineering, which is also a Samsung supplier.



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