Samsung is sued over poor working conditions in Brazil

Samsung is sued over poor working conditions in Brazil

Summary: The electronics giant could face a fine of $107mi if found guilty - but the problems might have just begun

SHARE:
TOPICS: CXO
12

The Brazilian Ministry of Labor has filed a lawsuit against Samsung this week, citing precarious working conditions imposed on its 6,000 employees at a manufacturing facility in Brazil.

Several irregularities were found at the factory in Manaus, including working shifts of up to 15 hours, lack of seats in the production line, lack of breaks and days off as well as harassment in the workplace. If found guilty, the South Korean firm will have to pay $250mi ($107mi) in damages to its employees. 

According to the authorities, some 2,000 employees had to take sick leave of up to 2 weeks in 2012 alone, due to issues such as back problems and repetitive strain injury. This is hardly surprising given the requirements of the production line: a staff member has only 65 seconds to assemble a television, while a mobile phone is put together in under 33 seconds. 

It is not the first time that Samsung has been in trouble in Brazil over poor working conditions. In September 2011, the company had to pay R$ 500,000 ($214,000) in damages to employees at a facility in Campinas, in the state of São Paulo. 

The issues in Campinas were very similar to those seen in Manaus. At the time, employees described the working environment at Samsung as terrifying, with threats issued by managers when complaints were made. The company paid the fine and agreed to make the adjustments required by the government and Samsung should present evidence that the changes have been made to the Court this month.

Have we seen it all before?

A US-based NGO, China Labor Watch, has compared the working conditions at Samsung with the situation seen in China at Apple's manufacturer Foxconn. But this is different - Apple had a service contract with Foxconn, who treated its employees poorly despite telling their client that labor regulations would be respected. This is not to say that Apple wasn't also at fault, but the company treated the situation in a transparent manner and Tim Cook made sure that he was seen flying to China to demand changes. Requirements were raised so the bar was set higher across its entire supply chain and the Fair Labor Association got involved in the process.

With Samsung in Brazil, it is a different story. In this case there is no outsourced contractor to blame - we are talking about poor working conditions at their own factories. When questioned about the latest lawsuit, Samsung sent me a one-paragraph statement, which said that it is "committed to providing a workplace that adheres to the highest standards in the industry in relation to safety, health and wellbeing" and that it will fully cooperate with the Brazilian authorities when notified. 

Well, if I were part of the Samsung management team in Brazil, I would be praying for a miracle. As the sheen has started fading from Apple, Samsung appears poised to become the most important phone manufacturer in the world, but consumers don’t like companies that use dangerous or abusive factories to churn out new products.

Brazil is one of the biggest markets in the world for Samsung. They need to manage their reaction to this situation carefully because Brazil also has the most switched-on and social consumers outside of the USA. If Samsung don’t deal with the accusations of slave labor in Brazil then these local consumers - who have recently managed to get laws changed through protests organized via social media – are likely to arrange a product boycott.

In short, Samsung may find that their problems in Brazil have only just begun if they can’t reassure the public quickly that this behavior was in error.

Topic: CXO

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

12 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Samsung is sued over poor working conditions in Brazil

    Another example of GREED taking over.
    Over and Out
    • Most don't understand South America.

      Most people there work to enjoy life instead of the other way around. Most people are really nice. Though those that have money will cut corners every time they can.

      Unlike Foxconn, people do have rights, and now that this is public knowledge, Samsung does have a huge problem. Though it won't be lack of customers, it will be social upheavals until they correct the problem. And given the fact that Brazil is a federal state, workers lawsuits will just make this a huge economic mess for Samsung.
      Uralbas
      • And as proof of the news article

        The government does care for its people.
        Uralbas
  • Samsung could learn from Apple.

    Farm out your manufacturing to Chinese companies, where bad working conditions are part of the government financial plan. No lawsuits to worry about.
    anothercanuck
  • Well cone on all of you Apple detractors

    where did you hide your ethics?

    Oh, I forgot, this is Samsung, not Apple, and so bad behaviour doesn't count.
    Wakemewhentrollsgone
    • Ooops

      obviously, that should have been "come on", but I can see the irony of "cone on" those who have lost their moral compass.
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
  • Two points

    The sad reality is that most consumers neither know nor care about the worker's condition in foreign plants. If they did - 80% of the products on the shelf would go unbought. Even though Apple took a bit of a hit for the Foxconn stuff, for the most part it really didn't affect sales.

    "But this is different - Apple had a service contract with Foxconn, who treated its employees poorly despite telling their client that labor regulations would be respected. This is not to say that Apple wasn't also at fault, but the company treated the situation in a transparent manner and Tim Cook made sure that he was seen flying to China to demand changes."

    That's kind of editing history. In fact, Apple denied the problems, then deferred them to Foxconn and really only stepped up to the plate when it was clear this wasn't going away.

    Samsung isn't under the same pressure to be seen as responding quickly mainly because the US isn't their only market - that being said, so far, they've responded fairly quickly and have, for the most part, worked with officials to determine the cause of problems and fix it.

    Finally, while I'm sure Samsung doesn't pay all their employees equitably, I do know that Samsung pays its Korean workers a lot better than FoxConn pays theirs.
    TheWerewolf
    • Maybe you should do some basic research before defending Samsung

      It takes less than a second do find a LONG list of problems that Samsung still has with the way they treat workers in Korea alone. Brazil (and Mexico) are not the only two places where they abuse employees.

      And the problems are in Samsung owned factories, not subcontractors.
      wackoae
      • Defending Samsung?

        I don't see how the article is defending Samsung - it says that they have *more* of a problem than Apple because at least Apple could hide behind the mask of it all being problems in their outsourcing agreement. In this case the factories are owned by Samsung - these people are their own employees...
        markhillary
        • Do you know how talkbacks work??

          When you see some post UNDER another post, it usually means that that something is related to the parent post.
          wackoae
    • This is not a bad guy vs. good guy debate. It is about the fact that Samsung has been in trouble twice over the same issues in less than a year. All of that is happening INSIDE THEIR OWN FACTORIES.

      "Most consumers neither know nor care about the worker's condition in foreign plants" - that is changing. Fast.
      Angelica Mari
  • Think about the problem not your view

    Why has this started the Apple v Android/Samsung battle again it should be clear that the issue is that the companies all try and get away with treating workers like slaves, the report pointed out that apple had some problems but they at least tried to deal with it and didn't actually employ the workers. Stop the idiotic battle of what type of device you like from stopping you from looking at the disgusting ways that the company treat their people, instead we need to act with our wallets, I am sitting here watching TV on a Samsung TV but after reading the report I will think twice about buying a new one from them. I know that if I am buying from Samsung due to price then I am part of the problem... Thanks for telling me and I will e mail Samsung, they are most likely to totally ignore me but I will have tried and as I have a few Samsung TV's and a phone then I hope they listen to the outrage of decent people.
    Chris (I am more than happy giving my name and not hiding my identity.)
    c_monks@...