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Samsung to probe claims of underage workers, abuse at supplier

Investigators from S Korean firm arrive in China today

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Samsung has said that it will probe allegations that one of its suppliers employs underage workers. The South Korean company's investigators are slated to arrive in China today.

The New York-based China Labour Watch (CLW) released a report (PDF) earlier this week claiming that in three investigations during June and July, it uncovered evidence of child labour and student labour exploitation at HEG Electronics, a Chinese supplier to Samsung. The group had gone to Washington to call on a Congressional committee and the US government to put pressure on US companies to help fix worker conditions.

The non-profit group said that it found seven kids under 16 working in the same department as its investigators and further probing led them to believe that there were anything from 50 to 100 children working.

"Members of China Labor Watch were stunned by the results of the investigation of HEG Electronics, which showed that the practice of hiring child labor is prevalent at this factory," the CLW's report said.

Samsung said it had never found any sign of children at HEG factories during its own checks, but it would check again.

"Samsung Electronics has conducted two separate on-site inspections on HEG's working conditions this year but found no irregularities on those occasions," it said in a statement.

"A team of inspectors consisting of Samsung personnel from Korea headquarters will be dispatched to Huizhou, China on 9 August, and it will immediately launch an investigation and take appropriate measures to correct any problems that may surface."

CLW said that the children were working "under the same harsh conditions" as adult workers, but were only getting 70 per cent of the pay. The group also saw discrimination at the company based on age and sex and found the employees were forced to work far too much - 11 hours a day, six days a week for 26 to 28 days a month.

"The management are abusive during work, sometimes hitting workers on the factory floor. Any carelessness, such as slow movements, mis-operation, or late completion of team leaders’ orders could provoke the shouting of team leaders at anytime.

"Everyday, employees in the workshops were punished by standing all day long, writing self-criticism, or getting fined," the report said.

As well as supplying gear to Samsung, HEG also does work for Motorola and LG*. ®

Updated to add

* LG has been in touch to say "LG Electronics does not have nor has it ever had any business dealings with HEG Electronics facility in China". China Labour Watch has updated its statement to say:

We have received an e-mail from LG, it said that LG Electronics does not have nor has it ever had any business dealings with HEG Electronics facility in China. They have made a request to HEG that LG’s name be removed from their website and will take legal action if necessary to protect LG's reputation.

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