Samsung just can’t get a break. Less than two weeks after a judge ordered it pay $1.05 billion in damages to Apple for patent infringement, the South Korean company is now catching flak for shady labor practices in China. The New York-based human rights group China Labor Watch released a damning report on Wednesday that details a number of head-turning accusations ranging from low pay to child labor. But wait a second, now. Isn’t Apple the one that’s supposed to be abusing Chinese workers?
Sadly, it’s becoming apparent that treating workers poorly in China is standard operating procedure for electronics manufacturers (not that it should be a major surprise, either). The transgressions outlined in China Labor Watch’s report are not unlike those in the fashion and textile industries, like Nike, a few years ago. Looking at eight factories, six of which were directly operated by Samsung, the report lists the violations bluntly: “standing for 11 to 12 hours while working, underage workers, severe age and gender discrimination, abuse of student and labor dispatch workers, a lack of worker safety, and verbal and physical abuse.” For the record, this is the second time this year that Samsung’s been accused of using child labor.
Not to oversimplify the issue or anything, but China Labor Watch’s list of complaints is followed by a pretty straightforward rebuke: Samsung can afford not to abuse workers, but it allows it to happen anyway. “This sort of illegal and inhumane treatment is rampant among Samsung’s factories and supply chain. We demand that Samsung immediately begin the process of rectifying these abuses. With profits of over $12 billion in 2011, we are confident that Samsung has the wherewithal to systematically improve labor conditions for its network of factories and supplier factories in China,” the organization said in its report. (Don’t forget to subtract $1.05 billion when calculating those 2012 numbers.)
Apple must think this whole thing is pretty hilarious. Earlier this year, they were in the hot seat for treating workers at the Chinese company Foxconn, where iPads and iPhones are manufactured, so poorly that they were committing suicide. That scandal came to a head with a jaw-dropping series in the New York Times detailing the conditions that were racking up labor code violations and even getting workers killed. Apple rattled some cages in its PR department, sent Tim Cook to a Foxconn factory and continued on its way to become the most valuable company in the world.
It remains to be seen how Samsung will recover from this whole mess. The company’s already said that it’s conducting checks at all of its Chinese factories to make sure working conditions are up to code, following an earlier complaint about underage workers. There’s no word yet as to whether or not Samsung plans to come up with any original ideas this year — even if they’re bad ones — or if it’ll continue to copy Apple’s every move.
Follow Adam Clark Estes on Twitter: @adamclarkestes