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Young workers at HEG Electronics (Huizhou), Samsung’s Chinese contractor.

HEG Electronics (Huizhou), a Chinese contractor that assembles devices for Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd hired underage workers at its production facilities, according to a preliminary survey released on August 7 by China Labor Watch, a New York-based Chinese labor rights advocacy group.

Samsung’s Chinese partner forced the young workers to work the same excessive hours in the same harsh conditions, said the New York rights watchdog, while paying them 30 percent less than their adult colleagues. On the assembly lines for Samsung devices, workers, underage and adult alike, had to work standing for more than 11 hours a day.  On top of that they are only given a 40-minute break for meals, said the survey.  There are 28 discipline points that lead to management levying hefty penalties against the young workers who make an average of $1.27-$1.08 per hour.

In the survey it covertly conducted in June and July, CLW profiled seven child workers ranging in age from 14 to 16 and estimated that at least 50-100 child workers were employed on HEG/Samsung production lines.  HEG management was aware of the clear violations of local labor regulation in employing children and made attempts at covering them up.

Many underage workers worked as seasonally hired “interns.”  For student workers, there are no formal contracts, nor age verification.  School teachers helped forge documents or vouched for the underage hires to “serve their own interests,” according the survey.  Even after HEG managers discovered that some of its workers were underage, they continued to employ the children, and moved them to a rented dormitory outside the factory to hide them from outside inspection.

Indeed, HEG depends heavily on a cheap labor pool from local vocational schools for churning out DVDs, stereo systems, and MP3 players for Samsung.  During summer and winter vacations, 80 percent of its 2,000-strong workforce is students and 60% during the non-season.

Samsung provides fixed assets and other equipment to the Chinese contractor, the survey said.  More than 50 Samsung employees are posted to HEG production facilities.

However, Samsung pleaded ignorance of child labor at its Chinese contractor.  “Samsung Electronics has conducted two separate on-site inspections on HEG’s working conditions this year but found no irregularities on those occasions,” Nam Ki Yung, a Samsung spokesman, told Bloomberg News.  Samsung said it would send an investigation team to HEC, according to a tech news site, The Verge.

According to CLW, Samsung uses Intertek as its outside CSR auditor for contractors and suppliers.  CLW discredits Intertek’s trustworthiness, pointing to the fact that its inspectors took briberies from Chinese contractors.

Whether Intertek has audited HEG for Samsung in the past is unknown.  However, in 2011, in a move to dodge pressure from SHARPS and other labor advocates, Samsung commissioned Environ, a pro-business technical consultancy, to prove the lack of causality between the leukemia clusters at is semiconductor facilities and their working conditions.  Samsung did not provide reliable and comprehensive data.

Founded in 2000, CLW is an independent not-for-profit organization.  In 2010, CLW published reports on safety-lapse-caused explosions and a series of suicides by employees at Foxconn, the Chinese/Taiwanese contractor of Apple Inc.

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