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Samsung Electronics has suspended business with a Chinese supplier accused of hiring child workers, after finding evidence to suggest the allegations are accurate.
Last week China Labor Watch, a rights group, published an investigative report claiming to have found five underage workers in the factory of Shinyang Electronic, a Samsung supplier in Dongguan, southern China.
The following day the New York Times published a report including an interview with three 14- and 15-year-old girls it said worked at the factory.
Samsung, the world's biggest technology company by sales, had dismissed as impossible to confirm two separate CLW allegations of child labor in its supply chain.
However, on Monday Samsung said it had conducted an investigation immediately after CLW's report last Thursday, and that the probe appeared to confirm the accusation.
As a result, "Samsung decided to temporarily suspend business with the factory in question as it found evidence of suspected child labor at the worksite," the South Korean company said. "If the investigations conclude that the supplier indeed hired children illegally, Samsung will permanently halt business with the supplier."
Geoffrey Crothall of China Labor Bulletin, a rights group unaffiliated with CLW, said that Samsung's threat to cease business with Shinyang "doesn't really get to the fundamental issue of underage employment".
He added: "Corporations can talk all they like about commitment to corporate social responsibility, but if you look at the way they put pressure on their suppliers in terms of price and time, the ones who ultimately suffer are the workers".
Samsung said it appeared that the workers had been hired on June 29, four days after the conclusion of a labor audit commissioned by Samsung and carried out by the South Korean agency DNV GL.
This marks the first time Samsung has reported finding indications of underage workers at its suppliers. In contrast, Apple's latest annual audit of its suppliers reported 23 instances of child labor. The US group said it had ordered the companies in question to compensate the children and fund their education.
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Apple instituted the audit in 2007 after coming under fire over conditions at the developing-world factories that manufacture its products. Samsung has published a "sustainability report" since 2000 but until this year the reports featured only cursory references to conditions at supplier factories.
This year's report, published on June 30, featured the results of an audit carried out at 100 of more than 200 Samsung suppliers in China. The audit, performed last year by an unnamed but officially certified external agency, found no evidence of child labor. However, it showed that 59 of the suppliers failed to provide sufficient safety equipment or supervision to their workers, while 33 used fines or disciplines to discipline workers.
Samsung had previously vowed to eliminate such practices by the end of 2012, in response to an earlier set of CLW allegations.
Shinyang Electronic could not be reached for comment.