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Behind the scenes with Samsung's Chinese factory girls

Michael Kan | Sept. 5, 2012
Like many her age, 19-year-old Zhao Caixia left her hometown in the Chinese province of Gansu to see the world. That world now revolves around a Samsung factory in the Chinese city of Tianjin, where she spends eight to 12 hours a day inspecting cameras before they're shipped out.

On Tuesday, New York-based China Labor Watch released a new investigative report into eight Samsung factories in China. It cites what it called a "long list of illegal and inhuman violations" including forced overtime, underage workers, and verbal and physical abuse.

Samsung could not immediately comment on that report, but on Monday, in response to an earlier investigation, it said it had a "zero tolerance policy" on child labor violations and that it was auditing its factories to ensure they comply with its policies and with local laws.

Samsung workers interviewed by IDG said their main complaint was how monotonous and dull their work is.

"The work we do now has nothing to do with what we learned in school," said a 21-year-old worker, surnamed Meng, who studied computer graphics and design at a trade school. She now spends eight hours a day producing motherboards for mobile phones, and sometimes works a further 12 hours on weekends, depending on Samsung's needs.  

 

Meng came to work at the Samsung factory two years ago with 70 classmates from her school in Shandong province. Many of those classmates are no longer there. "They left because it wasn't really a good fit, or they were here too long and they wanted to learn something else. Some didn't like it," she said.

 

While workers from Samsung-owned factories spoke well of their monthly wages, pay at neighboring suppliers to Samsung is generally significantly lower.

Twenty-seven-year-old Xue Junfen worked at a factory operated by Yaguang Nypro Precision Molding, assembling and inspecting mobile phone casings for three years before leaving in March to join a Chinese NGO (non-governmental organization). When she started at the factory in 2009 she was making 700 yuan as a base salary. That climbed to 900 yuan the following year and 1,160 yuan by 2011.

With overtime, however, workers were generally earning 2,300 yuan a month, Xue said. But to do so, she said, they had to work 12 hours a day throughout the month.

During her time there, Xue assembled and inspected phone casings for Samsung, Nokia and Research In Motion. In a single day, she would look over 4,300 to 5,600 casings, her job sometimes to check if the ID stickers behind a phone casing were properly placed.

"Workers didn't understand what these components were for," she said. "You are making this product over and over again, but you don't know what it does."

Xue arrived at the factory after dropping out of middle school. "There was a lot of pressure and the quality of education was not that high," she said. "I thought there was more to learn being out in the world, rather than staying in school."

 

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