After undercover investigations and resulting allegations of underage workers in one of Samsung’s supplier factories, Samsung has quickly made public response to this issue. Repeatedly pledging a “zero tolerance policy”, Samsung has currently suspended their involvement with Shinyang Electronic Co. Ltd, in Dongguan, China. Until recently, Shinyang produced phone covers and parts for Samsung. It’s a South Korean-invested facility which hires about 40% temporary workers, all reportedly under the age of 35.
Although Samsung has conducted its own audits of this factory (three since 2013, the most recent on June 25, 2014), the company uncovered no cases of child labor. China Labor Watch (CLW), however, found at least five children working on one production line in this facility, and estimate there could be as many as twenty children working on that line and more throughout the facility.
Samsung’s failure to notice such gross violations during multiple visits to Shinyang certainly questions the rigor and effectiveness of these audits. In response to the allegations made by CLW, Samsung launched another investigation last week and reported finding evidence of illegal hiring processes. If Samsung’s investigation concludes that illegal hiring practices were indeed used, Samsung is threatening to permanently terminate its involvement with Shinyang.
In an effort to completely eradicate child labor within electronic factories, it is reassuring to see such an adamant response from Samsung’s team. However, the repercussions that could result from termination would leave workers worse off. Most imminently, the reported 1,200 Chinese workers in this facility could immediately lose their jobs, as Samsung is a major purchaser from this facility.
Cutting ties also relieves a lot of responsibility from Samsung. Other major electronics factories have formal child labor remediation policies. Apple, for example, requires that suppliers found to be employing underage workers must return children to school, finance their education and continue to provide income.
Shinyang’s violations reach beyond underage workers. All workers—adults, minors, and children—are underpaid, overworked, malnourished and forced into hazardous situations. A strong child labor remediation process, along with an increased hourly wage, and overtime that respects national limits would go a long way to make Shinyang a better place to work.
As Samsung considers next steps with Shinyang, we strongly urge the company to invest more in Shinyang and reform the factory so that it is a decent place to work. Terminating business with this factory is just a temporary solution to a systemic problem. The high demand and low prices that Samsung imposes on its supplier factories indirectly pushes them to seek out the cheapest labor possible, and in this unfortunate instance, children.