Samsung supplier in China uses underage workers, says labor watchdog group

Samsung said it investigated the supplier twice this year, and found no "irregularities"

A Samsung supplier in China allegedly employs workers under the age of 16, according to a labor watchdog group, which found the student workers earn about US$1 an hour.

China Labor Watch said it found the problems after sending investigators to work at Huizhou-based HEG Electronics, a producer of cellphone, stereo equipment, and DVD players for Samsung, according to a report from the group released this week.

While working at the HEG factory during the months of June and July, the investigators found seven workers under the age of 16, including one who was 14. Chinese labor laws forbid the recruiting of workers under 16. But in the past labor groups said they have found instances of Chinese manufacturers violating this law.

HEG employs 2,000 workers, but many of them, perhaps as high as 80 percent, are students, who are brought by their schools to work at the factory during vacations as part of an internship, according to the watchdog group. HEG does not check workers for age, and took no action to stop employing underage workers once discovered, the group alleges.

While HEG did not answer phone calls, Samsung said in a statement the company conducted two separate on-site inspections of HEG's working conditions this year, but found no irregularities.

"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," the company said.

China Labor Watch, however, said Samsung's auditors, Intertek, have been known to accept bribes in some cases, allowing the investigated firms to pass their audit. Intertek could not be immediately reached for comment.

In addition, the watchdog group found that employees at the HEG factory work 11 hours a day for 6 days in a week. Workers are fined for finding defects in products produced, rather than rewarded. Management also physically hits workers or forces them to stand for an entire day as punishment, it said.

"It is our demand that the relevant brand companies and factories compensate these child workers and help them to get back into school and continue their education," the watchdog group added.

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Michael Kan

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