Samsung released the results of an internal study they conducted on the working conditions within their suppliers. The results weren’t very pretty. The study showed that nearly half (48%) of their factories employeed workers who were underage, and over half (59%) did not supply safety equipment, such as goggles, earplugs, masks, and gloves. That alone should be horrifying. Samsung’s report also stated that “a majority” of their suppliers were breaking China’s already lenient overtime laws, and that 39% were paying fixed wages, no overtime wages. The worst part is that an independent study showed that Samsung underplayed a number of the aspects in their report, including the children working in their factories.
Perhaps what is most troubling of all is the reaction from consumers over this information. People are more bothered by the fact that Samsung hid some of the issues in their factory from their report, or that the levels are above tolerated amounts, rather than being upset over children working in dangrous conditions with no safety gear and no overtime pay. Anything above 0 should be considered unacceptable, and yet consumers will go on, without this changing their buying habits. It’s not slave labor, but it’s as close as these suppliers can get away with.
“Ok”, you’re saying, “What about other companies? Surely Samsung isn’t alone, right?”. Well, you’re right to be suspicious, Samsung isn’t alone. Nearly every technology manufacturer is using suppliers that are violating some basic workers’ rights. Apple caught plenty of flak over their use of Foxconn, and has since employed more strict standards for their suppliers. Suppliers want Apple’s lucrative business, so they’re more likely to comply with labor laws. For example, “only” 20% of Apple suppliers didn’t supply safety gear, and “only” 15% incorrectly reported overtime hours. That’s far less than Samsungs 59% without safety gear and “a majority” with falsified overtime hours. Apple’s an outlier in the industry, with better records than most, but should any level of child labor or poor working conditions be acceptable? Samsung thought they could pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, but did they even have to? Will consumers really change their buying habits over labor conditions? Doing so could lead to companies requiring their suppliers to treat their workers better, and stop treating them like machines instead of human beings. One could only hope.