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Archive for August, 2013

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Brazilian labor advocate group Repórter Brasil depicts poor working conditions at Samsung’s Manaus plant as the Brazilian version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times.” Source: Agência de Comunicações do Governo do Estado do Amazonas

Brazil’s ministry of labor of has filed a civil-action lawsuit against Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. seeking 250 million reais (US$108 million) in damages for what it said is poor working conditions at the company’s assembly lines in the country’s free trade zone.

In the lawsuit filed on August 9, the government said its audit turned up serious labor violation at a Samsung plant employing about 6,000 workers in the Manaus Free Trade Zone in the state of Amazonas.

Addiction to Speed

The Brazilian government’s allegations corroborate an earlier report by Repórter Brasil,  a São Paulo-based labor advocacy group.

At the Manaus plant, workers work up to 10 hours at a time on their feet, packaging electronics goods literally within seconds.  The following is the breakdown of time and movements spent on packaging an electronic item by a team of about ten Samsung employees in Brazil as revealed by Repórter Brasil:

  Item   Number of Movements Time (in seconds)
  TV   87-96   65
  Speaker   112-142   38
  Cellular phone   64-110   32.7
  Tablet   50-91   85

Modern Times?

The Brazilian advocacy group depicted the plant “the Brazilian version of Charlie Chaplin’s classic film Modern Times.

Many workers make 6,800 repetitive motions a day.  Some have worked 27 days straight.  They are allowed two separate ten-minute breaks a day and fined by the company when exceeding ten minutes.

In 2012 alone, more than 2,000 workers suffered from a variety of health problems such as chronic back injuries, according the Brazilian government.

“We take great care to provide a workplace environment that assures the highest industry standards of health, safety, and welfare for our employees across the world,” Samsung said in a statement, hiding behind its usual vague language.

Samsung:  Corporate Recidivist 

This is not the first time that Samsung has had a run-in with the law in Brazil.  In 2011, Samsung paid the Brazilian government about US$200,000 to settle labor abuse charges.  And its current lawsuit is merely the latest revelations of widespread labor abuse at Samsung’s global supply chain.

The following are reports filed in the past 11 months on this blog on labor abuses and industrial incidents at Samsung:

Samsung Accused Of Labor Rights Violations In China

Samsung Seen Covering Up Fatal Gas Leaks At Its Chip Plant

Samsung Continues to Cover Up Fatal Chemical Leaks With More Lies

Samsung Receives Slap On The Wrist For Fatal Chemical Leaks

Another Fatal Accident Hits A Samsung Plant

Samsung Outsources Fatality Risk To Contractors

On SHARPS

As of March 2012, SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and aplastic anemia after employment in the electronics industry in South Korea.   As of June 2, 2012, 63 of the 155 have died.  The majority of the workers, 138, were employed at Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics and Samsung SDS—the three electronics affiliates of the Samsung Group. Among the 63 deaths were 56 Samsung employees.

Correction.  An earlier version of this blog post misstated the amount of damages sought by the Brazilian government as US$250 million.  The correct amount is 250 million reais or US$208 million.  

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SHARPS and labor activists in June picked Amotech, a Samsung supplier, where three workers died of overwork during the first three months of this year.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd is dumping high-risk jobs into outsourcers, a SHARPS activist said at a conference on August 7.  The world’s largest technology company’s lack of follow-through is helping ensure long working hours, high employee turnover, and negligence in safety measures, making many Samsung contractor facilities dangerous places to work.

“QTS, a Samsung contractor, does not allow workers to open windows at their workplaces to protect the trade secret of Samsung, even though their shops are poorly ventilated,” Kong Jeong-ok, a physician with SHARPS said at the conference on the conditions of workers at Samsung’s contractors hosted by SHARPS in Seoul.

At QTS in the city of Yongin, South Korea, employees, most of them women in their mid-40s and older, put memory chips with solder bumps into high-temperature reflow furnaces  They put the refurbished chips into the cleaning tank to remove impurities and into the chemical ovens to dry them.

The women have to do these high-risk, chemically drenched jobs with bare hands.

The only protective gear provided by the company was disposable masks and plastic gloves.  The gloves are useless because they are too big to use to handle tiny memory chips.  Management tells the employers to wear gas masks when they expect outside inspections.

Officially, QTS workers work from 9am till 6pm.  However, they often work overtime until 9am next day, meaning that they worked a full twenty-four hour shift.

QTS, with about 20-25 on its full-time payroll, seasonally hires up to 70 or more.  A full-timer earns KRW 900,000 (US$810) in base salary a month, plus KRW 800,000 (US$720)-KRW 1 million (US$900) in overtime, compared with South Korea’s per-capita GDP of US$31,700 for 2012.

Low pay and poor working conditions have increased employee turnover.  Only about ten employees have worked at QTS for a multiple number of years.  Among them, four were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010-12. In 2010, one woman employee in her mid-40s, died of lung cancer.

Amotech, another Samsung contractor posted a 93 percent increase in sales in 2012,” said Dr. Kong.  However, the remarkable expansion was the result of Amotech employees’ sacrifices, she added.

Over the course of three months of January to March 2013, three employees died of acute conditions brought on by overwork at the Inchoen, South Korea ceramic chipmaker that makes 45.6 percent of its sales to Samsung, Apple Inc, HTC Corporation, and Lenovo.

In January, an electroplater in his fifties died of acute cerebral infarction.  He passed out after having worked 12 hours a day for days. (His identity is withheld at his family’s request.).

In March, Yim Seung-hyun, 31 years old, died of cerebral hemorrhage after having worked 12 hours a day for 19 months.  Since December 2012, he took only four days off and worked on all weekends.

In the same month, a mid-ranking technician, Kwon Tae-young died. Kwon often worked 15 to 26 hours straight to reduce the defect rates of common mode filters, Amotech’s strategic item, used to reduce the noise levels of Smartphones.

Poor base pay means many Amotech employees are forced to work overtime only to stay afloat.  For January 2013, Yim got only one day off on New Year’s Day.  He worked an average of 12.5 hours a day to take home KRW 1.08 million (US$972) in base salary and KRW1.89 million (US$1,700) in overtime.

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SHARPS on August 7 hosted a conference on working conditions at Samsung contractor facilities.

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