Samsung clashes with labor group over allegations of Chinese underage workers

A labor protection group is accusing one of Samsung’s suppliers in China of hiring over 10 underage workers to build company components. But the Korean electronics giant was quick to dismiss the allegations, and said it had no “child workers” at the facility.

New York-based China Labor Watch made the accusations on Thursday, claiming in a statement that Samsung supplier HEG Technology had hired the underage workers at its facility in Huizhou, China. The factory, where components for Lenovo are also built, had been in a rush to hire new workers, and neglected to check their identifications, according to the group.

The youngest worker was found to be 14. China forbids factories from hiring workers under the age of 16.

In addition, the factory had also hired 117 college students, many of whom averaged 12.5 hours of work each day, according to the report. The student workers eventually quit their jobs, but complained that the factory owed them money.

Samsung, however, dismissed the allegations’ underpinnings. Last week, the company conducted its own investigation of the site, after China Labor Watch had notified Samsung, and said it found no underage workers or student workers at the facility.

“We find it regrettable that CLW [China Labor Watch] issued the allegations today without any mention of our statement,” the company said in an email. Prior to China Labor Watch’s statement on Thursday, Samsung had also proposed that the company conduct a joint investigation with the labor group to verify the results.

China Labor Watch’s executive director Li Qiang said he had personally spoken to one of the student workers over the phone and through a chat client. But after his group alerted Samsung about the labor conditions at the factory, the student worker was no longer taking phone calls.

“She also erased me from QQ [the chat client]. I really don’t know what happened,” he said in an email.

This is the second instance where China Labor Watch has accused HEG Technology of hiring underage workers, only for Samsung to respond that it found no such workers at the site.

In December 2012, China Labor Watch also alleged that Samsung had deliberately tried to hide the hiring of underage workers at another company supplier in the country.

Samsung has said it has a zero tolerance policy regarding child labor, and actively works with its Chinese suppliers to screen out underage hires. Earlier this year, the company briefly suspended one such supplier after finding evidence that it had unintentionally employed several underage workers.

On Thursday, Lenovo said it was also looking into the matter at the HEG Technology facility, but declined to comment.

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