French NGOs file complaint against Samsung over Chinese labor practices

Samsung's French subsidiary should be held responsible for the wrongdoings of its China-based sister company, the NGOs said

Three NGOs filed a complaint with a French prosecutor's office against Samsung's subsidiary in the country, saying that the affiliate should be held responsible for labor violations in China.

The complaint was filed Tuesday with the prosecutor's office in Bobigny, a suburb of Paris, by non-governmental organizations Peuples Solidaires, Sherpa and Indecosa-CGT, said Marie-Laure Guislain , head of litigation for Sherpa.

Subsidiaries of big vendors like Samsung shouldn't be able to get away with violations of labor laws by their sister companies in other countries, Guislain said. Samsung says in its French publications and advertisements that it respects the rights of Chinese workers and imposes codes of conducts and ethical standards, but the company is not keeping its promises, she said.

"What Samsung is saying in its advertising is that it is a very respectable company. This communication is misleading," Guislain said. Therefore, the nongovernmental organizations decided to file the complaint.

Samsung products are manufactured by underage workers China that often work 12 hour days and sleep with eight people in small dorm rooms, Guislain said. In September New-York based labor rights group China Labor Watch revealed this labor misconduct.

After the China Labor Watch report, Samsung announced it would take measures to keep its suppliers in China compliant with labor laws. The company also completed a round of audits that found problems relating to overtime and the way penalties were carried out. Since then, however, new problems with underage workers were reported by China Labor Watch that Samsung subsequently denied.

It is the first time that the NGOs have had the opportunity to file a complaint like this with the prosecution in France, said Guislain, adding that they had China Labor Watch to thank for that. "Before it was difficult to do such a thing because we didn't have proof," she said. The NGOs, however, think they have a strong case now, she said.

The organizations haven't heard back from the French prosecutors yet. "That usually takes quite a long time," said Guislain, who estimated that it might take a month or longer before they would hear the prosecutors' decision on whether to proceed with a case.

Samsung did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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