Samsung is facing accusations that the company deliberately tried to hide the employment of underage workers at a Chinese supplier, after a labor protection group said it found three girls under the age of 16 employed at the factory.
On Friday, New York-based China Labor Watch said it had identified three underage workers at a factory operated by HTNS Shenzhen that assembles handsets for Samsung. The labor rights group, said it had checked the personal IDs of three workers, and also held discussions with them to verify their age.
But on the next day, Samsung said its own investigation had uncovered no underage workers. Of the three workers allegedly underage, one had said she was 18 years old during a meeting with Samsung and a representative from China Labor Watch, it added.
"During this meeting she stated, 'I do not understand why we are having this discussion. I am over 18 years of age,'" Samsung said.
Samsung added that the two other alleged underage employees were no longer with HTNS, but claimed they were also of legal age, which was verified during the hiring process
China Labor Watch, however, disputes Samsung's assertions. "All of what Samsung has said is fake," according to China Labor Watch founder Li Qiang, in an interview on Monday.
The group had originally secured a pledge from Samsung to pay the workers' studying and living expenses if found to be underage. But after informing Samsung of the workers' names, two of the workers abruptly left the factory, and their current whereabouts are unknown.
The third worker, named Liu Tiantian, was pressured to say she was 18 in the meeting with both Samsung and China Labor Watch's investigator at the factory, according to Li. During that meeting, Liu presented her official ID, which showed her as being 18 years of age. But China Labor Watch contends the ID presented was that of an older person with the same name.
"It's obvious that the photo didn't match with her own appearance," Li said. "She was pressured by Samsung, and her words were not genuine." (The picture of Liu's official ID and the photo of her in factory records can be found here.)
Liu is only 15 years old, and is still employed at the factory, according to Li.
Samsung said in response it was willing to arrange another visit with local Chinese police to verify Liu's identification. China Labor Watch and IDG News Service would be invited to attend the meeting if it occurs.
Last month, Samsung said it had found no underage workers at 105 of its suppliers in China following a major audit of the facilities. China Labor Watch, however, claims Samsung's audits are cursory and fail to assess all the labor violations occurring at the factories.
The HTNS factory is based in the Chinese city of Huizhou and employs 1100 workers, according to China Labor Watch. Monthly overtime among assembly line workers can exceed 150 hours, far beyond the 36 hours Chinese labor laws allow, the group added.