Labor group says there’s something fishy about Samsung’s child labor claims

Samsung Galaxy S III

Has Samsung supplier HEG Electronics been using child labor in its factories? According to results from Samsung’s audits, no way.

“Samsung investigators did not identify any underage workers during the site audit at HEG Electronics in Huizhou, but we identified workers under the age of 18 on site,” the company said.

Samsung’s findings are a big departure from those of watchdog group China Labor Watch,which said last month that it found seven child laborers working in the HEG Electronics factory. Why the discrepancy?

China Labor Watch director Li Qiang offered one explanation: “I think this means that their auditing system has many problems.”

In particular, Qiang said Samsung essentially warned HEG Electronics that its investigators were coming. This gave the factory enough time to move or fire its underage workers before Samsung could start interviewing them, Qiang said in a statement to VentureBeat.

While these are tough allegations to verify, Samsung does note in its report that HEG Electronics’ high turnover rate made it tough to fully audit the company. So it’s clear that the investigation could have been more extensive.

Child labor aside, Samsung’s investigation did find a few problems. For one, factory workers were in some cases working nine hours per day, beyond legal limits. The factory was also fining workers for being late and did not offer access to a medial clinic.

As a result of its findings, Samsung is giving HEG Electronics two options: Either improve factory conditions or risk losing Samsung as a client. The company plans to expand its investigations to other suppliers over the next few weeks.