Panasonic and Samsung accused of migrant worker exploitation

Samsung and Panasonic are facing allegations of widespread abuse in their supply chain and have launched investigations into whether Nepalese migrant workers are being exploited in Malaysia. 

This comes after a probe by the Guardian unearthed a number of complaints from individuals working in Samsung and Panasonic’s supply chains. Complaints from workers ranged from being lied to about pay to having their passports taken away and being forced to work up to 14 hours withoutrest. 

Both companies ban their suppliers from charging these workers employment fees or taking away their passports, but despite this, the men who were interviewed for the investigation claimed they paid up £1,000 to get a job in Malaysia.

The Guardian spoke to 30 male workers, one of whom works in a Samsung factory making microwaves told the news outlet about not getting the salary he was promised: “My heart is aching. I was not given the job I was promised. I am doing very difficult work. I haven’t got the salary they said I would get.” 

Workers in Johor Bahru that they were severely unpaid, and trapped in a financial spiral thanks to unauthorised conduct of Panasonic’s suppliers. “We know our earnings are below minimum wage, but what can we do about it?” said one of the workers. “We feel terrible because we have a big loan to pay back. You have to work for three years just to pay it off.”

Living conditions for these workers are also poor and workers for Samsung claimed that supervisors at the labour supply company they work for threatened them. “They told us, ‘If you don’t work, or leave without paying, we’ll bury you in Malaysia,’” said one man.

A Samsung spokesperson said: “As a committed member of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), we comply fully with the EICC’s Code of Conduct and have found no evidence of violations in the hiring process of migrant workers hired directly by our manufacturing facility in Malaysia. Once there is any complaint, we take swift actions to investigate.

“We are currently conducting on-site investigations of labour supply companies we work with in Malaysia, and the migrant employees hired by these companies. If any violations are uncovered, we will make immediate corrective actions and moving forward we will suspend our business with companies that are found to be in violation.” 

In an emailed statement, Panasonic said, “Panasonic will conduct a full investigation into the claims made by the Guardian. We are taking these allegations very seriously and if, in fact, we discover that one of our suppliers has violated such laws or regulations, we will ensure and require them to take necessary corrective action immediately.

“We expect all of our suppliers to strictly comply with our corporate social responsibility policy and declaration. These expectations are outlined in Panasonic’s contracted terms and conditions with each supplier. We do not tolerate breaches of these terms.” 

Electronics count for nearly 35 per cent of the country’s export economy and the sector has faced international scrutiny for its treatment of migrant workers. A 2014 report by supply chain watchdog Verité found that nearly one third of workers within the sector are in forced labour, and called for reforms of foreign company policy. 

Human Rights Watch in Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said: “Brands working in Malaysia have to recognise that the standard operating procedure for labour contractors is debt bondage and this has ramifications.

“Taking someone from Nepal and putting them in a factory in Malaysia costs money, and if these costs are not being factored into the price of a phone, or a microwave or a speaker, then they are complicit in a system that expects the workers to suffer as a result.”

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