Bloomberg reports that a Chinese company which assembles phones and DVD players for Samsung is being accused of hiring children younger than 16 at its production facilities. These children were reportedly forced to work excessive hours in dangerous conditions and paid less than their adult counterparts, a clear violation of Chinese labor laws.
China Labor Watch issued its report on Monday (pdf), stating that its own undercover investigators identified seven children under the age of 16 working at HEG Electronics (Huizhou) Co., Ltd in China. All seven adolescents worked in the same departments as the undercover agents, leading to speculation that even more underage workers were employed throughout the factory.
"Our investigators suspected that there were a large number of child laborers in other departments of the factory, estimating that there may be 50 to100 children working there," the report states. "These children were working under same harsh conditions as adult workers, but were paid only 70-percent of the wages when compared with the formal employees. Moreover, these child workers were often required to carry-out dangerous tasks that resulted in injury."
The report goes on to state that customers like Samsung are required audit a company to make sure they do not violate any local laws. Intertek was reportedly hired on to audit HEG Electronics for Samsung. However Intertek is also major client of the Chinese assembler, and reports generated by this 3rd-party auditor are supposedly not trustworthy. China Labor Watch even claims that Intertek's auditors have actually accepted bribery from factories in exchange for letting the firm pass audits despite not meeting requirements.
Naturally the report doesn't disclose the actual names of the children, but some of their information has been disclosed for "authenticity purposes." Brand companies like Samsung can verify employment via their hiring certificate, and the report itself even provides pictures of the children in the employment training session. Technical and secondary vocational schools can also verify their employment.
"Among the child workers listed, we interviewed Wu Xiaofang (alias) in particular," the report states. "She is 14 years old. She told us about her problems at HEG recently. During March and April 2012, she accidentally fell on the stairs on her way from the dormitory to the factory floor, unable to work afterward. However, the company not only refused to take her to the hospital for treatment but also rejected her request for sick leave. It also deducted 6 days from her wages on the pretext of her sick leave."
The report claims that there are currently;y around 2,000 workers employed by HEG. During the summer and winter vacation periods, student workers may constitute more than 80-percent of the factory workforce. Most of these students are under 18 and do not receive special protection from the factory. The Hunan Yuandong Vocational and Technical School even claims that more than 10 underage workers were sent to the factory on April 27, 2012.
Despite the detailed report, Samsung claims that its own previous investigations produced no evidence of child labor violations. "Samsung Electronics has conducted two separate on-site inspections on HEG’s working conditions this year but found no irregularities on those occasions," Nam Ki Yung, a spokesman for Samsung, told Bloomberg in an e-mailed statement. "Given the report, we will conduct another field survey at the earliest possible time to ensure our previous inspections have been based on full information and to take appropriate measures to correct any problems that may surface."
To read the full report, check out the PDF here.