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Worker Abuse Reported at Samsung Factories

{complink 4750|Samsung Corp.} has to be feeling a little picked on these days. Mere weeks after it lost a patent battle with {complink 379|Apple Inc.}, a watchdog agency has reported that Samsung is violating workers' rights.

According to Wall Street Journal and BBC reports, China Labor Watch found incidents of forced overtime, underage workers, and poor working conditions in a number of Samsung factories. Samsung owns several factories in China and outsources to others.

The charges are similar to those that have been directed at Apple, which outsources much of its manufacturing to {complink 2125|Foxconn Electronics Inc.} After its accusations surfaced, Apple agreed to let a third party audit Foxconn's facilities. The BBC says Samsung has not agreed to third-party audits. This is clearly a mistake. Already a high-profile company, Samsung will be in the spotlight for the foreseeable future as it battles the Apple verdict. The labor charges won't just disappear. Even if Samsung weren't in the spotlight, investigating these allegations would be the right thing to do.

Samsung hasn't faced nearly as much outrage as Apple did, and I have to wonder why. Is it because Apple is a US company and should know better? Is it because Apple is a bigger target? Or is it because people are no longer surprised these conditions exist?

I'm going with the last reason. There seems to be a kind of apathy around the topic now that Apple is fixing its problems. (For one thing, Foxconn has raised its wages.) But if we are to accept the California court's decision that Samsung's products are just like Apple's, it's not a stretch to assume they are built in factories just like Apple's.

The last time EBN was covering this issue, a reader made a good point. Instead of haranguing companies, shouldn't we be putting pressure on the Chinese government? It's no coincidence that all these reports are coming out of China. If you look hard enough, you'll find workers being abused at a lot more factories that are associated with brand names.

As bad as things look for Samsung, the company should be pressured to improve its working conditions. At the very least, it should let a third party inspect the factories.

22 comments on “Worker Abuse Reported at Samsung Factories

  1. Cryptoman
    September 6, 2012

    Samsung should have simply agreed to third party inspections. Because it failed to do that, it has simply attracted more attention and has implicitly agreed to the accusations.

    The trouble is even if Samsung decided to improve the working conditions today, such changes cannot happen overnight. Process of change is costly and time consuming. I wonder whether Samsung will be able to come up with a quick fix to restore public confidence.

  2. _hm
    September 6, 2012

    This is a good opportunity for Samsung. Samsung will act quickly and help workers with better opportunities. 

  3. SP
    September 7, 2012

    To give my views to the point raised that Samsung hasnt faced the heat Apple faced in similiar condition. I agree that main reason is because Apple is a US company while Samsung is not from US. The minimum standard of living is widely different in US and other Asian countries. The working condition too are also especially for people working in manufacturing plants. I am not surprised that some watchdog company has pointed out this. And its not just with Samsung I guess many companies in these regions normally compromise because social culture is different, labor laws are not as strict as in US. I guess that's why these companies can generate better revenue from having their plants in China or other Asian countries.

  4. bolaji ojo
    September 7, 2012

    The belief that Apple would be the only company to come under the spotlight of environmental and labor activists was flawed from the start. Once Apple started taking steps to rectify the problems identified by these groups it was inevitable they would direct their attentions to the next in the group. Samsung and companies like Dell, HP, Nokia and their Japanese counterparts are next and rightly so.

  5. bolaji ojo
    September 7, 2012

    Right. Why wait for more than two years with all the heat directed through that period on Apple? It's not just Samsung. All the equipment manufacturers in China were aware the searchlight was on manufacturing conditions in the country. Why didn't they take steps immediately to counter the problem instead of waiting until being targeted by the labor activists?

  6. Barbara Jorgensen
    September 7, 2012

    Bolaji: good point. There was a missed opportunity here. In fact, red flags should have gone up when Nike and some clothing lines started getting heat for labor conditions in China. That has to be at least a decade ago. (Anyone remember the Kathi Lee Gifford clothing line?)  Yet manufacturers flocked to China.

  7. chipmonk
    September 7, 2012

    Seems to me it is high time to start demanding from SmartPhone Vendors ( Apple, Samsung, .. ) some sort of REAL & VERIFIABLE commitment to maintain good working condition ( by local standards ) at their Chinese assembly shops. This should include :

    1. a written promise at the back of the SmartPhone that ” No Slave Labor was used to mfg your Smart Phone ”  sort of like No Net Tuna or Blood Diamonds

    2. Use technology to allow anyone to monitor Factory condition at random, public websites with real time YouTube videos that show the interior of those factories and their dorms

    3. set aside a $ 10 ( ? ) surcharge per phone for decent treatment of fellow humans ( the Chinese workers ), funds to be administered by Apple / Samsung HR Dept. till the slave drivers at Hon Hai ( FoxConn ) learn & practice compassion.  

  8. mario8a
    September 7, 2012

    Hello Barbara

    I have close friends that work at Samsung Mexico and they pretty much comfirmed your article, not only to chinese or mexican workers but amoung them, phisical contact between managers is not out of the equation, most of the times they end up being OK, with that kind of behaivor and it seems to be normal practice in Korea ( don't quote me on that ).

    I hope goverment see this as an opportunity to grow their human rights audits.

     

    Mario Ochoa

  9. SP
    September 8, 2012

    Totally agree with you Bolaji. This problem is there but I guess no big company wants to talk about it or bring it in open. Hats off to Apple that they put the third party audit. When ever there is a problem its better to first accept it and then act on it. I guess if Samsung keeps denying or be defensive it will affect them.

  10. SP
    September 8, 2012

    Strict labor laws and adherence to those laws are the only option. But if it remains only on paper then the situation will remain same. In these regions laws can be easily altered and certain things are not even considered unlawful. The people working in the plant are mostly affected. People also give in to the adverse situation of the employers as unemployment, poverty and population are the burning factors. If one person resigns or  gives in there are many more to work in the same stingy conditions and when it comes to emplyers its the output and revenue that matters. As long as they keep getting the output that passes the quality threshold they wont care how the labor conditions are. I guess the individual thinking must change.

  11. Nemos
    September 8, 2012

    “The last time EBN was covering this issue, a reader made a good point. Instead of haranguing companies, shouldn't we be putting pressure on the Chinese government? “

    Excellent point !!!! 

    I believe the same, the “working environment” in China leave the companies to act with similar way. Of course that doesn't give forgiveness to the companies and I strongly believe that we will hear soon and from another company about worker abuse. 

     

  12. Susan Fourtané
    September 9, 2012

    Does someone know why Samsung didn't allow a third party inspection? 

    When this same happened to Apple a lot of people critized the company. On Facebook there were comment saying if you have or buy a product from Apple you are supporting worker abuse. What do people say now about Samsung? I don't think consumers have anything to do with any of this in any way.

    Yes, the Chinese government is the one to watch concerning worker abuse in any company in China, foreign or not. The companies are not to blame but they should investigate. 

    -Susan 

  13. Susan Fourtané
    September 9, 2012

    Nemos, 

    Can you imagine how many local companies could be suffering the same and workers don't say anything because they fear to lose their jobs? 

    -Susan 

  14. bolaji ojo
    September 9, 2012

    You don't allow third-party monitoring before doing first-party monitoring. If Samsung had not done its own internal monitoring, which the company obviously had not done, then it wouldn't want external parties reviewing the situation at its partners. It will probably invite third-party monitors after conducting the first round.

  15. bolaji ojo
    September 9, 2012

    The West can try to put pressure on the Chinese government but the record in this respect hasn't been great. They haven't been very successful in forcing China where the issue of labor is concerned.

    The Chinese government has to consider what is best for its citizens, believe it and actively pursue the best course of action to achieve those goals. From where we stand that doesn't seem to be the case. Are we right and they wrong? I don't know.

  16. Nemos
    September 9, 2012

    Many … , I was working in a similar working environment and I can tell you that the feeling is terrible .And I want to mention this , if you lose a job with such bad working conditions the only thing that you will miss is some money but if you continue to work you lose every day your dignity. I know that it sounds big words and I am not in the same position with a really poor worker in China or in Africa but from my small journey to this world until now I have learnt not to compromise myself with anything that underestimate me. 

     

  17. hash.era
    September 10, 2012

    Nemos: Yes it does not matter how much you get or what your position is if you do not have a good working envirionment. Working envioronment is something which we do not bother most of the time when we select a job but after joining we feel the importance of the envioronment and its too late to adjust. I simply cant understand where the laws are ?

  18. SP
    September 10, 2012

    Well the laws are only on paper. They can be easily altered or misinterpreted. The cost and harrassment of legal journey is huge and its the individual who pays for it not the system or the organization or the government. So people normally give in or try to move on to a different career or migrate to diferent countries. Also population being huge its easy to get replacement also. And Samsung being a Korean (non US) company I guess they may not take this matter so serious as Apple took because of the culture difference. In US the human rights are pretty strongly adhered to and the law being so strict and also acted upon that not many break them. Even if in any case there are exceptions they first accept it and allow proper investigations. And of course investigations gets over in due time and results come out.

  19. Daniel
    September 10, 2012

    Barbara, this is only for their facilities in China or any other countries. It seems that in China, in almost all factories or production facilities, workers rights are get violating. Once I had been in China and while visiting various factories I had noticed that there are no any humanitarian concerns with any of authorities. They forced them to work overtime without pay or compensatory offs.

  20. Barbara Jorgensen
    September 10, 2012

    @Jacob: this repot was only for China, and not all of Samsung's factories in China. It was also issed by an organization called China Labor Watch. This doesn't necessarily mean these conditions don't exist elsewhere–the spotlight is on China. of course. But Apple, Nike, Hitachi and NEC, just to name a few, have also faced such charges regarding China. As I point out in my blog, I don't think this is a coincidence: China as a government seems to allow, if not enable, this knif of environemnt.

  21. Mr. Roques
    September 21, 2012

    What share of the responsibility should the Chinese gvmnt take? They should look after their workers and I'm sure they have enough power to penalize Apple, Samsung or any other company if they find abuses.

  22. hash.era
    February 23, 2013

    Exactly SP. You need laws or policies or whatever which can be executed in practical issues. No law carries any value if its not being utilized in ptactical scenarios/

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