Samsung denies child labor abuse claims
By Kim Yoo-chul
Samsung Electronics Thursday vowed to look thoroughly into allegations of child labor abuse at one of its Chinese suppliers, although company officials aren’t convinced that claims by China Labor Watch have any truth to them.
The New York-based human rights organization recently released a 31-page report suggesting that HEG Electronics, one of Samsung’s many Chinese partners, has been employing children under the age of 16. These underage workers have been underpaid and forced to work excessive hours, the report said.
Samsung has been quick to respond to the matter, sending a team of inspectors to the Huizhou-based company. It said no problems were found during previous on-site inspections of HEG earlier this year.
An official from Samsung’s Chinese headquarters was confident that the case will not turn into its own version of the Foxconn case, the Chinese company that makes iPads and other products for Apple, where a slew of suicides as a result of appalling working conditions gave the American firm a public relations black eye.
``Samsung China has been internally investigating the claims. We have yet to find any solid evidence to prove the allegations after checking employment documents provided by our Chinese suppliers,’’ the official said over the telephone.
``A special team dispatched by Samsung headquarters in Korea has begun investigating and we will take any necessary measures needed.’’
Samsung has around 4,000 suppliers and contractors in China. The claim that some of them might have hired underage workers could merely be a misunderstanding, said the official.
Many vocational schools in China send students to internships or casual part time jobs during the summer vacation as part of their courses. Some of these students may have mistakenly been listed as employees at HEG, he said.
China Labor Watch said that seven children under 16 were found to be working at HEG, which assembles mobile phones, DVD players and other devices for Samsung.
The report said that the underage workers were paid only 70 percent of what adult employees took homes. The group also insists that HEG laborers working the 11-hour night shift were only granted break time of 40 minutes.
``This is a very sensitive issue for Samsung, who is afraid it will be compared to Apple and its handling of the Foxconn case. They will have to move quick to prevent this issue from becoming bigger than it should be, considering its public image in the U.S. and other markets,’’ said a government official.
China is one of the most-critical markets for Samsung, along with the United States. It is already became the world’s biggest television market last year, replacing the United States.
Samsung manufactures LCDs and mobile phones there, while it recently announced it will build a first overseas flash memory chip plant in the western city of Xi’an with large financial and administrative support from the Chinese government.
``The labor-related issue in China should be regarded as a growing pain for Samsung. As the company’s top decision-makers think China is more important than the United States in the long-term, it’s highly likely that Samsung will announce new measures to improve conditions at its factories and for its workers and contractors,’’ said a high-ranked Samsung executive.