It turns out that worker exploitation may be a prerequisite for dominance in the mobile market, as Samsung came under fire this past week for child labour violations along its own Chinese supply lines. The report, issued by watchdog group China Labor Watch, slammed Samsung supply partner HEG Electronics for its unscrupulous hiring practices and its inhumane treatment of workers.
While competing mobile giant Apple initially dismissed claims of inhumane working conditions two years ago when employees of its manufacturing partner Foxconn suddenly started throwing themselves off tall buildings, Samsung is taking a different course, acknowledging the complaints immediately and sending a team of analysts to probe the complaints.
But while Samsung is clearly trying to distance itself from Apple and its ongoing Foxconn fiasco, I would guess the public relations playbook for both companies is exactly the same: offer a token response, present a report with some minor violations, correct said violations, and continue operating as if nothing had ever happened.
The damning report from China Labor Watch indicted HEG on several counts, including the employment of seven children under the age of 16, the fact that these children worked the same 11-hour work shift as adult workers yet received only 70 percent of the wage, the fact that all workers were granted only a 40 minute lunch break on there 11-hour shifts, and that worker’s living conditions at the factory were ‘appalling.’
What I find particularly interesting regarding the exploitation of under-age workers and subjecting employees to inhumane working conditions is not so much that it happened, as we’ve seen before that often times in countries where words like ‘worker’s rights’ are practically swear words, but that Samsung has audited this factory several times before and found nothing wrong.
My point is this, none of these indictments are the sorts of violations that just happen overnight, but instead are the sort of systemic violations that Samsung should have found in one of its previous two audits of the company. I would guess that Samsung was fully aware that HEG subjected its employees to gruelling 11-hour work days with practically no breaks, as I would guess that HEG didn’t suddenly implement that policy in the last year or so.
In regards to the child-labour violations I might have to give Samsung a pass on this one (not HEG of course) given the fact that its often difficult to authenticate the age of many migrant workers employed in Chinese factories, and given the fact that HEG was probably fairly tight-lipped about its illegal practices. If Samsung did know about the working standards violations, however, this would likely create a PR nightmare that dwarfs what Apple has been dealing with over its own supply line indiscretions.
Staying with the comparison between HEG and Foxconn, the conclusion of the China Labor Watch report actually found the working conditions at the former were “well below” those the watchdog organization previously found at Foxconn, something I truly could never have fathomed. But that said I would look for the findings of Samsung’s audit to be exactly the same as Apple’s, offering token corrective platitudes for minor offenses in hopes that all this talk of exploiting child labour will simply disappear.