Foxconn and Apple are the two names we usually hear in discussions of the poor working conditions involved in making our favorite gadgets. Due to its size, publicized suicide problems, and connection with Apple, Foxconn has become the notable evil electronics manufacturer. But there are plenty of other factories -- and not just in China -- where our gadgets get made, and Samsung isn't an insignificant player, either. The company sells a lot of phones and tablets and even supplies Apple with some parts. (The latest Comscore data has Samsung showing the largest penetration in the smartphone market.) Now, a just released report from the labor rights group China Labor Watch brings Samsung's dirty practices to our attention.
The report looked at 8 of those Samsung factories within China. Things don't look so pretty. There are a total of 16 major sets of labor treatment the worst of which we have compared with what we know about Foxconn from various media reports and similar labor rights organization reports:
Samsung: All but one of the Samsung factories has workers working more than the legal amount of hours. Though many workers choose to work overtime to supplement low pay, at least three of the factories force workers to work overtime.
Foxconn: In March, Foxconn announced an end to 12-hour days for Foxconn workers, claiming the company would bring the time worked within the legal limit. A more recent July 2012 by China Labor Watch indicated Foxconn has not followed through with that; it called the hours "well above the legal limit set in China." However, it does not sound like Foxconn forces the overtime. When the cap was announced, workers complained that they wouldn't get the chance to sign up for more hours to make more money.
Exhausting Working Conditions
Samsung: "Almost all factories require most workers to work standing for the entirety of their shift, including during regular overtime shifts that last 11 to 12 hours," explains the report.
Foxconn: Workers at Foxconn don't sit in chairs without backs, nor are they forced to stand, per a Marketplace report. But, the work has been described as dull. "It’s incredibly boring and repetitive," an iPad assembly line worker named Xu told Marketplace's Rob Schmitz.
Forced Work Without Pay
Samsung: Factories will make workers take vacation instead of pay and also make workers show up for unpaid early morning meetins.
Abuse of Underage Workers
Samsung: "At least 3 factories—TSMD, SEHZ, and SSKMT—have been discovered hiring workers under 18 years of age, requiring them to do the same work as adults without providing extra protection for these children," explains the report.
Foxconn: Underage workers are no longer a problem at Foxconn, according to that same Marketplace report.
Lack of Worker Safety
Samsung: Some of the factories had safety violations, but most egregiously, one group of workers is exposed to fumes without any protection.
Foxconn: Similar levels of safety hazards exist at Foxconn. From the Child Labor Watch report: "According to workers at Foxconn, occupational hazards, such as low-level radiation, chemicals, and dust, do exist in some areas of the factory."
Dependence on Overtime
Samsung: Working the legal limit at minimum wage at these factories amounts to a whopping $206 per month for these workers, which pushes them to work overtime.
Foxconn: This is common at Foxconn, too. A recent survey found that many of the workers want to work more hours to make more money.
The entire report goes through other violations found at the manufacturers, including discriminatory hiring practices and a lack of effective complain mechanisms.
Not only do labor rights violations still exist at Foxconn, but as this China Labor Watch report finds, "these violations are rampant throughout Apple’s supply chain and at Samsung, too. Conditions can be even worse at other Apple suppliers, including at the Riteng factory in Shanghai," according to a press release. Because of its high profile, Foxconn has made recent improvements, including shortened hours and raises, that have made us forget that our gadgets still come from dark places. But these other faceless factories out there are part of the machine that spits out our smart phones. Though they don't have the familiar Foxconn name, these are some of the many not-too-pleasant anonymous factories where those (theoretical) iPhone 5s and Samsung- Galaxy-whatevers come from.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.