Brazil sues Samsung over work conditions

Brazil sues Samsung over work conditions

Last updated: August 14, 2013 7:44 pm

By Samantha Pearson in São Paulo and Simon Mundy in Seoul

Brazilian public prosecutors are suing Samsung for R$250m ($109m) in damages over alleged poor working conditions at the electronic group’s vast plant in the Amazon city of Manaus.

The Public Prosecutor for Labour of the Amazon has accused the company of putting its employees’ health at risk by forcing them to carry out intense but repetitive activities for long periods on the factory line.

Samsung’s Manaus factory, which has 6,000 employees, instructed workers to perform triple the amount of movements considered safe under ergonomic studies, prosecutors said.

Employees were found working up to 10 hours on their feet, while one worked 27 straight days without a day off, prosecutors said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Samsung has promised to conduct a thorough review and fully co-operate with the Brazilian authorities once it receives details of the complaint. “We take great care to provide a workplace environment that assures the highest industry standards of health, safety, and welfare for our employees across the world,” the company said.

Global electronics groups have piled into Latin America’s biggest economy to take advantage of booming demand among the country’s growing middle classes. However, Brazil’s strict labour laws and powerful workers’ unions have proved to be a challenge for groups such as Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision, widely known by its trade name Foxconn.

Workers at Foxconn’s plant in Jundiaí, which employs 6,000 people, have staged protests during the past year over everything from the food in the canteen to working hours and lack of career planning offered to employees.

The prosecutors’ office in the Amazon said that it started legal action against Samsung on August 9 following three government inspections at the plant, the first of which started in May 2011.

Last year, cases of tendinitis, bursitis, repetitive strain injuries and back problems caused workers to take a total of 2,018 periods of sick leave, some of which lasted as many as 15 days, according to the prosecutors’ statement.

“[The sum of R$250m] may seem excessive at first, but putting things into perspective, it is equivalent to what the defendant makes as a profit around the world in less than two days,” the prosecutors’ office said.

As well as demanding R$250m in damages, prosecutors are asking Samsung to give employees a 10-minute break every 50 minutes.

Samsung, the world’s largest maker of smartphones and televisions, has also come under criticism in China over working conditions at its suppliers.

Last year, New York-based China Labor Watch released reports including allegations of child labour. It also alleged illegal practices at six factories that were wholly or mostly owned by the South Korean group, including working hours in excess of legal limits. Samsung denied allegations of child labour, citing a “zero tolerance” policy.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013.


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