LABOR WARS: Samsung Joins Apple in the Latest Labor Controversy

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A Steady Hand: Photo by Robert S. Donovan

As Samsung and Apple wind up for a legal dual in courts over digital tablet cell phone patents, the technology giants find themselves tangled in another, messier PR battle.

No matter how big and how seemingly well-run a company is, there remains a serious risk when outsourcing production abroad. Last month, Samsung joined the recently targeted Apple in the long list of companies that have been accused of violating workers’ rights in their international factories.

Just as we talked last week about companies embracing a trend towards being “flawsome,” Apple and Samsung have recently been forced to admit their mistakes amid a public controversy regarding labor conditions at their Chinese suppliers—though there is certainly nothing awesome about having to admit these flaws.

In late August, New York-based activist group China Labor Watch released a lengthy report bringing into question the working conditions at 8 Samsung factories in China—6 of which are owned by the company itself. Samsung was accused of a myriad of violations, including hiring underage workers, not compensating employees overtime pay totalling nearly 100 hours a month, oral and physical abuse of workers, and failing to provide proper safety equipment.

The findings mirror a similar report released by the CLW earlier in the year that brought charges of labor abuse towards Apple. The report came after undercover CLW workers staged an investigation into conditions at factories run by Apple’s supplier, Foxconn. Amid the controversy, Apple agreed to allow the Fair Labor Association to perform audits, while Foxconn underwent a serious reform of its internal systems.

At a news conference following the release of the report, a Chinese government official blasted certain companies for lacking “human care.” Following Apple’s lead, Samsung pledged to conduct on-site investigations of all 105 of their Chinese suppliers, while China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has promised to continue to monitor conditions at their factories. The Fair Labor Association has since released a report indicating that measures taken by Samsung suggest that the company is on the right track towards addressing these serious findings.

What all this really brings to light is a continued need for businesses to be more aware of the risks inherent in their supply chains.

In the 80’s and 90’s, major apparel and footwear suppliers found themselves tangled in the now-notorious sweatshop controversy. That brought about major changes in management systems and methods for social compliance reporting (and improved working conditions on the factory floor). These changes have been crucial in redefining the way companies are expected to conduct their businesses, both at home and abroad.

With this newest debacle, the message is clear: big or small, companies must take measures to ensure that their suppliers abide by ethical and fair standards of workers’ rights. We hope that this latest outing sparks a wake-up call for the electronics industry and leads to the development of programs to protect worker rights in their factories.

While this is a serious topic, the brilliant minds at Saturday Night Live recently took our need for faster, lighter, thinner phones to task…

2 Responses to “LABOR WARS: Samsung Joins Apple in the Latest Labor Controversy”

  1. LABOR WARS: Samsung Joins Apple in the Latest Labor … – Fair Labor and stopping Workers’ Rights Violations : fairkarma Says:

    […] LABOR WARS: Samsung Joins Apple in the Latest Labor … […]

  2. LABOR WARS – Product with Purpose – Blog – Fair Labor and stopping Workers’ Rights Violations : fairkarma Says:

    […] LABOR WARS – Product with Purpose – Blog […]

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