On January 11, 2018, two French NGOs, Sherpa and ActionAid France filed a lawsuit against Samsung Global, and its French subsidiary, Samsung Electronics France for misleading advertising. On Samsung’s website, the company makes a series of claims such as a commitment “to complying with local laws and regulations” and “an aim to become one of the most ethical companies in the world”. However, China Labor Watch’s previous investigations into Samsung’s factories in China reveals Samsung’s claims to be false.
Samsung’s website goes on to list the company’s business principles. The first business principle states, “[w]e respect the basic human rights of all people. Forced labour, wage exploitation and child slavery are not allowed under any circumstances.” Yet CLW’s August 2012 reportshowed that one of Samsung’s factories, HEG Electronics (Huizhou) Co., Ltd, commonly used child labor. Even though the factory was aware of the child laborers, it did not make any effort to stop their employment but rather moved them to rented dormitories off of factory grounds to escape detection.
Conditions did not markedly improve two years later. In August 2014 CLW conducted a follow up investigation into HEG Technology and discovered 78 student workers not allowed to leave the factory after they had quit. It was only after CLW wrote a letter to Samsung were the students allowed to quit. Investigators also found more instances of child laborers, who were under the age of 16.
Samsung’s first business principle also claims “we do not discriminate against nationality, race, gender, religion, etc,” but CLW’s September 2012 report brought to light the severe discrimination based on age, gender and individual characteristics present at eight Samsung factories in China. Six of the eight factories were reported to be restricting the age of new workers to only young workers and refusing to hire either males or females.
Samsung’s fourth business principle is “we obey safety regulations, create a comfortable work environment and prevent negligent accidents.” CLW’s September 2012 investigation found that workers at Samsung factories, Intops and Chaarmtech, were not provided with safety training and that Intops workers, who worked in positions which exposed them to printing fumes, did not receive personal protective equipment.
Lack of proper personal protective equipment “may have led to incurable diseases for several employees” as stated in Sherpa and ActionAid France’s press release. This is further evidenced by the many former Samsung workers who have sought compensation from Samsung for possible occupational diseases. In 2016, South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that the family of a Samsung worker, who had died from a brain tumor, was eligible for state compensation for an occupational disease.
Sherpa and ActionAid France’s lawsuit against Samsung points out “[t]he gap between these ethical commitments and the reality in factories as described by the NGOs is unacceptable and should be sanctioned.” Serving as a world leader in electronics manufacturing and with a brand value of $56.2 billion, Samsung has not only the unique ability to greatly impact the lives of the workers on its multinational supply chain but also a responsibility to honor its espoused commitments to laws and ethical standards.