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According to China Labor Watch––a New York City based NGO founded in 2000 to protect worker rights in China––one of Samsung and Lenovo’s suppliers, HEG Electronics, is violating child labor laws.image

CLW released their report on Thursday, and alleges that the HEG facility in Huizhou, Guangdong Province employs over 10 children under the age of 16 (but over the age of 10). Furthermore, they report that approximately 117 students worked at this facility, but were not compensated for their labor fairly or as mandated by Chinese law. Read the full report here.

Samsung, however, denies these allegations. In response to the report from CRW, a spokeswoman stated that Samsung conducted an on-site investigation of the facility, which included one-on-one interviews, and found no evidence of child or student labor violations.

“We immediately notified our findings to CLW and also proposed that Samsung and CLW conduct a joint onsite investigation for more precise verification. Furthermore, we proposed briefing [them on] Samsung’s recruitment process that includes ID verification and face to face interviews.” CLW made no mention of this communication in their report, which the spokeswoman calls “regrettable”.

Li Qiang, the founder and executive director of China Labor Watch, stated that the proposal to coordinate came with confidentiality clauses. It is unclear whether or not this means CLW rejected the proposal because of the confidentiality clauses, or that they were legally bound to silence, and so did not mention it in their report. But I’d bet my money on the latter. Qiang also stated that “HEG had already dismissed these child workers before Samsung arrived,” which would be chilling if proven true.

Along with the allegations of child and student labor violations, the CLW report paints a very brutal picture of the general working conditions at the HEG facility. If workers were caught drinking water on their 2-hour labor shift, they were scolded; a previously allowed 10 minute break between 2-hour shifts was abolished in the Samsung department; and 4-5 hours of overtime were essentially required by HEG. There’s more, but you get the picture. These accusations, however, have not been addressed by any side.

Interestingly, the required age for the Lenovo and Samsung departments within the HEG facility differ. To work for Samsung, you have to be 18, whereas for Lenovo, you only have to be 16. It’s possible that this difference might have created the illusion of some wiggle room. That children being close in age to 16 might have been able to get through the system and work for Samsung because of Lenovo’s younger age policy. But it’s also entirely possible that it was simple subversion of law––an HEG representative stated that student hiring is conducted by an outsourcing company, which would potentially not be as liable for a violation as HEG would be.

This is not the first time Samsung and HEG Electronics have faced fire from China Labor Watch. In 2012 HEG was charged by CLW for the same infringements and Samsung said it would address the issue, but did not institute any changes.

What will Samsung’s next move be? HEG is not the only Chinese supplier for Samsung to be involved in controversy. Just last month Samsung said it would sever ties with Shinyang Electronics as a result of child labor violations, but instead only cut down on the amount of orders it would place with that company. Being involved with this controversy can’t be good for business (besides it being decidedly morally gray), so how will they solve this problem? HEG already states they use facial recognition to weed out underaged workers, but if CLW’s allegations are correct and they’re deceiving Samsung, then what has to be done?

As the story develops, we will assuredly see further statements from all four parties (Lenovo, Samsung, CLW, and HEG Electronics), so until that time we just have to bunker down and think about who, if anyone, isn’t telling the whole truth.

[Cnet & Reuters]

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