Brazil suing Samsung over factory worker abuses

Faith Merino · August 14, 2013 · Short URL:

Prosecutors say workers were forced to work 10-15 hours a day and many sustained injuries

Just weeks after an undercover investigation found rampant abuse and exploitation of workers at several Pegatron facilities (one of Apple’s component suppliers), now Samsung is in the spotlight. Brazil’s Ministry of Labor is suing Samsung for R$250 million ($108 million USD) for poor working conditions at its Manaus factory, which employs over 6,000 people and is the largest of Samsung’s 25 global factories. The Manaus factory supplies all of Latin America.

“Once we receive the complaint in question, we will conduct a thorough review and fully cooperate with the Brazilian authorities. 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.

The Ministry captured video of the working conditions at Manaus over the course of three inspections starting in May 2011. The findings included employees working 10-15 hours a day standing, and some employees working 27 consecutive days without a break. Throughout 2012, there were over 2,000 cases of tendonitis, bursitis, repetitive stress injuries, and back injuries, and the factory is facing some 1,200 labor lawsuits.

Prosecutors say that workers have 32 seconds to assemble a phone and 65 seconds to assemble a TV set. One worker reportedly assembled 3,000 phones in one day.

Brazil’s Ministry of Labor is asking for $108 million, which breaks down to $19,000 per employee. The Ministry is also asking Samsung to give employees who do a lot of repetitive upper body work 10 minute breaks for every 50 minutes worked. It’s also asking Samsung to bring in furniture and work stations that will allow employees to perform their work sitting down.

In August 2012, an investigation into Samsung’s supplier HEG Electronics by CLW revealed rampant child labor, in which children (many under the age of 16) are working in the same harsh conditions as adults and getting injured on the job while only making 70% of what their adult counterparts are making. 

In November, the mounting reports of worker abuse compelled Samsung to perform an audit. The company said it saw no cases of underage workers, but it did find overtime violations and cases of fines imposed on employees who were late or absent. Samsung said it would demand its suppliers acquire devices to detect fake IDs and would work on a plan to prevent workers’ hours from exceeding local overtime regulations by the end of 2014.

Two weeks ago, a damning report was released by the advocacy group China Labor Watch, which revealed widespread and systemic abuses at three Pegatron facilities in China, including—but not limited to—withholding pay, confiscating workers’ ID cards (which would prevent them from being able to find work elsewhere), mandating long hours, forcing employees to work up to 14 unpaid hours a month, and more. 

China Labor Watch says that electronics companies can stem the tide of worker abuses by establishing independent third party hotlines workers can call to report violations.  


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