China Labor Watch sent people undercover to investigate Shinyang Electronics, a supplier of Samsung. In three days, these investigators found five workers under 16 years old, some working 11-hour shifts. Child workers are making the equivalent of $1.20 an hour. Shinyang also is not giving sufficient safety training and only hiring males. The good news is Samsung says it will investigate the report from China Labor Watch. Samsung claims that they have investigated for child labor and did not find any. The children working at Shinyang Electronics had fake IDs. However China Labor Watch investigators were able to identify the true age of the children by comparing their real IDs with their employee IDs.
This is not the only incident of troubles with Samsung’s supply chain. A 23-year-old employee at a Samsung factory in Korea died of leukemia, and many claim the death was linked exposure to chemicals at work. Samsung publically apologized and offered compensation to the family, yet will not admit that the two events were linked.
The family of the girl who died, Hwang Yu-Mi, have been fighting against Samsung for the past seven years. Two films have been made to call attention to this tragedy, once called Another Promise, which was released in February, and a documentary, Empire of Shame, released in March. Empire of Shame focuses not only on Hwang Yu-Mi, but on the 58 other leukemia cases in Samsung’s plants. The Korean Herald called the documentary, “a meaningful achievement in Korean cinema, as well as for Korean democracy,” because it was funded by small private investors and crowdsourcing. Many Koreans revere Samsung, but maybe, efforts like this documentary are changing the general opinion.
So what can we do about it? You can sign a letter to Samsung at Green America here. Regarding our position of consumers - is it even possible to buy an ethical smartphone? Apple has been accused of unethical practices both in obtaining materials for phones and conditions for workers. There is a new Dutch Startup called Fairphone, but even they admit that it is impossible right now to make a 100% ethical phone, because of materials needed for the handset.