Samsung is again struggling to defend itself against accusation that its China suppliers, pressed to meet a production goal, hired children to work for 11 hours a day for as long as six months without paying them or providing any kind of insurance. If true, the allegations are unfortunately just the latest reminder that many of the products customers use every day are, in fact, manufactured by modern-day slaves.
Samsung Electronics Co. (NASDAQ:SSNLF) was accused of looking the other way in 2012, when it surfaced that Chinese plants were using “inhumane” treatment to push workers through an especially busy production period. A recent Samsung audit cited no evidence that the company had committed any more recent human rights violations, which leads to the possibility that corporations previously cited for human rights violations are lying, as well.
Here’s a short list of suspects:
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL): Samsung’s chief competitor admitted in an internal audit last year that at least 106 cases of underage labor were found at 11 Apple supply factories.
Most of the children (74) were under the age of 16, with many kids forced to lift heavy items and/or surrender a portion of their wages if they committed minor infractions. The plants committed a myriad of abuses that stretched past child labor, though, including mandatory pregnancy tests and employing workers who had no choice but to work to pay off debts.
That audit came not long after the Foxconn suicides drew international media attention. At least 18 employees attempted suicide (14 were successful) because of long working hours and conditions so harsh that a Chinese university study later described the factory community as a “camp.”
Wal-Mart (NASDAQ:WMT): The largest retailer in the U.S. was named in a 2006 National Labor Committee report that described how 11-year-old kids in Bangladesh sewed clothes for 95 to 110 hours a week and often endured near-torturous treatment for any accidents.
“The children report being routinely slapped and beaten, sometimes falling down from exhaustion, forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, even some all-night, 19-to-20-hour shifts, often seven days a week, for wages as low as 6.5 cents an hour,” explained a Harvard University review of the report. “The wages are so wretchedly low that many of the child workers get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning to brush their teeth using just their finger and ashes from the fire, since they cannot afford a toothbrush or toothpaste.”
HSBC (NASDAQ:HSBC): Last year HSBC avoided indictment and agreed to a financial settlement after making news for reportedly laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and members of al-Qaeda (yes, that al-Qaeda).
The U.S. Department of Justice and a Senate investigation found evidence that HSBC provided a “gateway for terrorists to gain access to U.S. dollars and the U.S. financial system,” yet allowed the bank to pay a $1.9 billion fine (less than the bank earns in three months’ trading) rather than charge any of its top executives.
Everett Stern, a former HSBC compliance officer, told the Huffington Post he informed his bosses about the transactions and that there was never any doubt about where the money was coming from.
“Where if I to do that, I would go to jail for life,” Stern said.
Shell Oil: Documents leaked to the Guardian in 2011 confirmed the long-standing suspicion that Shell Oil routinely paid Nigerian military personnel to violently quash peaceful protests by indigenous Ogoni people who were being driven from the oil-rich land they have lived on since 15 BC. The company was complicit in what the Ogoni have described as a genocide to the point where executives helped plan raids on villages where demonstrators were known to reside. Exact numbers are difficult to pin down, but most estimates suggest that thousands of people were killed or fled the region through the strife of the 1990s.
“People are brutalized for attempting to raise grievances with the companies: in some cases security forces threatened, beat, and jailed members of community delegations even fbefore they presented their case,” a 1999 Human Rights Watch report stated.