Samsung accused of labor violations by watchdog group

A China Labor Watch investigation finds rampant overtime and other labor abuses at some of Samsung's own Chinese factories and those of its suppliers.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
Samsung at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Samsung at the Consumer Electronics Show. Samsung

Samsung is up against a slew of labor abuse accusations in China, according to a report from China Labor Watch.

An investigation conducted by the watchdog group in October and November uncovered worker violations at several factories, those owned directly by Samsung as well as by its suppliers.

The report is in contrast to the one that Samsung itself released this week. Samsung's own internal audit of suppliers found no child labor violations, a key concern among watchdog groups and Samsung itself. However, Samsung's own audit did discover other issues at supplier factories in China, including overtime hours beyond the legal limit, management at suppliers holding copies of labor contracts, and fines levied against workers for being late or absent.

China Labor Watch cited several areas for concern at Samsung's own factories in Dongguan and Tianjin. The report alleges that there is use of blank labor contracts for new workers, that hiring is still limited mostly to women from ages 16 to 24, that many workers are forced to stand even if it the job does not require it, and that factories regularly use so-called dispatch workers. These people work through agencies that send them to employers such as Samsung, according to China Labor News. As a result, these workers are apparently more susceptible to labor abuses than are those hired directly by an employer.

Overtime was identified by China Labor Watch as one of the more prevalent issues, with factory employees typically working three to six times the legal limit for overtime hours. In one case, which China Labor Watch called the "worst situation," overtime hours alone at Samsung supplier-owner factory Chitwing Mould Industry (Dongguan) Co. shot past 220 hours per month. Employees at that factory could work as many as 15 or 16 hours a day with potentially only one day off each month.

CLW also faulted Samsung for not improving factory conditions since the group's last audit:

In comparing this investigation with our previous Samsung factory investigations earlier this year, we can see that Samsung has made no improvements since we published the first report two months ago on September 4. Worker violations, such as illegally long overtime hours, abuse of dispatch, underage, and student workers, employment discrimination, unfair treatment, low wages, and more still exist at Samsung factories.

In response to Samsung's own audit, Samsung said yesterday that it wants suppliers to correct these issues by the end of the year. It also announced that it is "researching and developing measures that will eliminate hours beyond legal limits by the end of 2014."

But China Labor Watch was dubious of Samsung's use of audits to monitor and resolve labor issues, as conveyed in its report:

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. Samsung uses an audit system to monitor factories, but audits are renowned for their lack of reliability. Instead of audits, Samsung should establish direct channels of communication with its workers, such as worker committees or a worker hotline.

Responding to the allegations and reiterating its own audit findings, a Samsung spokesperson sent CNET its latest statement on November 28:

Samsung Electronics holds itself and its suppliers to the highest standards. Our goal is to assess, improve, and continuously monitor every aspect of working conditions at Samsung-operated and supplier facilities to meet these high standards. We, therefore, take concerns about working conditions in China seriously. Whenever an issue is identified, we take immediate and appropriate steps to correct it. We are now designing, researching, and implementing corrective actions to address every violation that was identified through a recent audit at sites in China. Corrective actions include new hiring policies, initiatives to reduce work hours, and introduce new overtime practices, among other steps, to protect the welfare of employees. In fact, reducing employee overtime is a top priority and we are identifying measures to eliminate overtime hours by the end of 2014. Samsung abides by all labor and human right laws in each region it operates and strictly enforces bans on child labor, forced labor, and workplace discrimination.

Updated at 7:30 a.m. PT on November 28 with a statement from Samsung.