It looks like Apple and Samsung have another thing in common, aside from their love of rectangular tablet designs: alleged labor abuses at the Chinese factories which make their products. In a scathing undercover report issued last night, activist group China Labor Watch detailed a litany of alleged abuses, including employing workers as young as 14, at Samsung supplier HEG's factory complex in mainland China.
In response to the allegations, Samsung issued a statement this morning saying it planned to reinspect the factory, which had passed previous audits:
Samsung Electronics has conducted two separate on-site inspections on HEG's working conditions this year but found no irregularities on those occasions. Given the report, we will conduct another field survey at the earliest possible time to ensure our previous inspections have been based on full information and to take appropriate measures to correct any problems that may surface. Samsung Electronics is a company held to the highest standards of working conditions and we try to maintain that at our facilities and the facilities of partner companies around the world.
In its 31-page report, China Labor Watch alleges that HEG, which manufactures mobile phones, MP3 players, stereo equipment and other devices for Samsung, has committed the following violations:
- Employing Underage Workers: Undercover CLW investigators say they identified seven workers under the age of 16 who were employed in HEG's packing department. The report states that HEG never checked the workers' IDs to make sure they were of legal age after they were referred from a local technical school. According to CLW, after HEG discovered that it was employing underage workers, it moved them to an off-campus dormitory to avoid detection.
- Physical Abuse: According to CLW, HEG workers who make any kind of mistake are subject to severe punishments, including being hit or forced to stand all day. The report states:
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 standing all day long, writing self-criticism, or getting fined.
- Failing to Treat or Compensate for Work-Related Injuries: CLW interviewed a female worker who claimed to be just 14 years old and told investigators that, after she fell on the stairs in April and hurt herself, HEG not only failed to treat her injury but also refused a request for sick leave and deducted six days from her pay for the time she missed. When she was ill in May and her sick leave was denied, she had three days pay deducted as penalty. This worker was later fired.
- Excessive Overtime: According to the report, workers were forced to work 11 hours per day for six days a week and those on the production line might be forced to stand for 11 hours in a row. Night shift workers are given just one meal break during an 11-hour shift.
- Fines for Reporting Problems: CLW reports that workers who report product defects are fined severely, just for catching problems:
According to the rules, a worker that discovers defects in the Samsung products will be rewarded by the company. But in reality , it never rewards employees; rather, it punishes them for reporting defects. Workers will be imposed a fine of 200 RMB ($31.7) each time they find a defect, and the fine was increased to 500 RMB ($79.4) beginning in March 2012. Evenmore, employees can face termination for finding defects.
- Dangerous Conditions: According to CLW, workers at the HEG plant are regularly exposed to ethyl alcohol, but are only allowed to get new protective gloves once per day. Temperatures in the workshops become extremely hot and workers are not provided with so much as a first aid kit in either workshops or dormitories. "The company essentially offers no medical protection measures," CLW wrote.
Overall, CLW concluded that "working conditions at HEG are well below those general conditions in Apple’s supplier factories." It looks like Samsung could have a controversy brewing.