Samsung Electronics Co. said it didn’t find underage workers at a Chinese assembler accused by a New York-based group of using child labor.
While investigators sent by Samsung found some employees younger than 18, the student workers and interns were over 16, and their employment is legal, the Suwon, South Korea-based company said in a statement yesterday. China Labor Watch said last month seven children younger than 16 were working in the factory of HEG Electronics (Huizhou) Co. that makes phones and DVD players for Samsung.
Samsung asked HEG to improve its working conditions and said it will stop doing business with the Chinese company if it doesn’t comply with child-labor laws, the world’s top seller of mobile phones and televisions said. Labor groups are increasing scrutiny on workers in Asia after a spate of suicides at a factory of Apple Inc. supplier Foxconn Technology Group in 2010.
“Samsung holds itself and its supplier companies to the highest standards,” according to the statement. “If HEG fails to meet Samsung’s zero tolerance policy on child labor, the contract will be immediately severed.”
Some child workers use fake identifications and HEG had transferred them before inspectors from Samsung arrived, Li Qiang, a director at China Labor Watch in New York, said in an e-mailed response to queries. Samsung said on Aug. 8 it would send an inspection team to the factory.
“This means that their auditing system has many problems,” Li said.
One day before the Samsung auditors arrived, a team from China Labor Watch saw young workers taken into several cars that circled around the HEG factory before the labor group’s staff lost track of them, he said.
A team of 30 Samsung investigators conducted face-to-face ID checks, reviewed human-resources documents and interviewed student workers individually from Aug. 9 to Aug. 31, though a monthly staff turnover rate of about 30 percent made it harder to track down employees, according to the statement.
In some cases, the investigators traveled hours to get verification of the workers’ birth information, James Chung, a Seoul-based spokesman for Samsung, said by phone today in response to the China Labor Watch statement.
“We investigated very thoroughly,” Chung said. “We made it clear that if HEG gets caught hiring child labor, we’ll cut them off. There will certainly be the impact CLW wants.”
The inspectors found some employees worked overtime and had no access to medical clinics, according to the statement.
Calls to two phone numbers listed on the Website of HEG Electronics weren’t answered and there was no immediate reply to an e-mailed request for comment.
Samsung will conduct on-site inspections by the end of September on all 105 Chinese companies that make products solely for the company, it said in the statement. The company also plans to have the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition regularly check all of its suppliers in China from 2013.
Child workers faced the “same harsh conditions” as adults and were paid only 70 percent of the wages of other workers, according to China Labor Watch, which said it conducted investigations in June and July. Working conditions at HEG were “well below” those at Apple suppliers, according to the report.