A new report has revealed a series of health and workplace violations at Samsung plants in Vietnam, but the South Korean tech giant has categorically rejected the claims.
The study, which was released early this month, reported “serious” labor code violations at an industrial giant that is one of the leading investors and employers in the country.
45 female workers reported extreme fatigue, fainting and dizziness at work, and said that miscarriages were extremely common, according to the study by the Hanoi-based Research Center for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED) and IPEN, a global network of environment and health NGOs.
They also said that workers, including pregnant women, were required to stand for the entire 8-12 hour shifts or face a pay cut. They had limited breaks and had to ask to use the restroom.
Many are rostered on alternating day and night shift shifts, regardless of weekends, they said.
Workers said they had experienced problems with their eyesight, nose bleeds and stomach aches, as well as joint and leg pains.
No workers have received copies of their contracts, which is mandatory under Vietnamese labor laws, according to the report.
Samsung Electronics operates two cellphone plants in Bac Ninh and Thai Nguyen in northern Vietnam, which produce around half of all the cellphones that Samsung supplies to the global market.
The plants, which had 149,000 staff as of the end of April, made $36 billion last year, accounting for 68 percent of all revenue from the country's electronics industry, which is the highest grossing sector in Vietnam.
Joe DiGangi, IPEN's Senior Science and Technical Advisor, said that the study is important because the lives and rights of workers in the electronics industry in Vietnam have been “neglected”.
“Companies make a lot of money in Vietnam, but their profit rests on the tired shoulders of the female-majority workforce,” he said.
But Samsung in Vietnam has dismissed all the findings, saying that any concerns about the conditions of its workers are “groundless”.
In a statement responding to the study, Samsung Electronics Vietnam said it “regrets” that the CGFED and IPEN had conducted the study without visiting its factories.
It said the two units “had unitarily published a report with information that completely was not based on truth.”
“The company always tries its best to ensure its workers’ health, safety and welfare, and all its business operations strictly follow Vietnamese laws and global standards,” it said.
Regarding miscarriages, Samsung Electronics' communications director Ryu Kil Sang told VnExpress the sample size of 45 is too small to draw a convincing conclusion, given that 4,000 of its employees are currently pregnant.
"With a report that only surveyed 45 people to then conclude that miscarriages are common, without indicating a rate, I don't understand how much 'common' is," said Sang. "
In the past 20 years of operations in Vietnam, no Samsung employees had been exposed to chemicals in its factories, he added.
"In factories that assemble mobile phones in Vietnam, workers only do the job of assembling. No activity requires exposure to toxic chemicals," said Sang. "In the assembly lines, we only use detergents like alcohol to clean equipment, which is not harfmul to human health."
The company added that its workers get 10 minute breaks every two hours and an hour long break for meals. There are no limits on using the rest rooms, and all employees have a copy of the labor contracts.
Mai Duc Chinh, vice chairman of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, agreed with Samsung, calling the report unofficial. A sample of 45 cannot be representative of 160,000 Saumsung workers in Vietnam and thus the issues raised by the report are "incorrect", he said.
Inspections conducted by the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs at the beginning of 2017 found only three violations at Samsung's two factories, far below the common rate of 10-12 in the electronics sector. Samsung's violations had to do with exceeding the overtime limit by 30 hours each month, inappropriate shift allocations and lack of hygiene training for over 13,600 workers.
"Violations by Samsung Vietnam as claimed by the IPEN report are non-existent based on the labor ministry's evaluations," said Nguyen Tien Tung, the ministry's chief inspector, adding that the ministry has no plans to inspect Samsung Vietnam in the wake of IPEN's allegiations.
Tung said that exceeding the overtime limit is a common violation among FDI companies and the ministry has asked the government to extend the limit to 600 hours for export businesses.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) in Vietnam said it hadn't discussed this matter with the government as it had not received a letter from the labor ministry. The ILO, however, highlighted the fact that multinational companies are responsible for respecting for labor rights and health and safety standards in the countries they operate in.
Nguyen Thi Van Ha, chairwoman of the labor union in Bac Ninh, also said that she was unaware of any mistreatment at Samsung.
“The working environment at Samsung is very good. I just hope more companies can do the same,” Ha said, as cited by Tuoi Tre.
“We need to look at the study carefully.”
Vu Duy Hoang, chairman of the labor union of Thai Nguyen, where Samsung employs more than 60,000 people, said that Samsung had invested in its workers by building boarding houses, medical centers and kitchens.
Samsung was Vietnam’s biggest exporter last year, earning $39.9 billion in revenue from shipping electronics and contributing 23 percent to Vietnam’s total export revenue. It currently runs six factories in Vietnam, and exports products to 52 countries.