UK students to fight Samsung’s labour rights abuses | Ella Wilkinson – Bright Green


People & Planet campaigners at Samsung action
Image credit: People & Planet

Demonstrations outside High Street stores across the UK and Ireland are being organised for 25th-26th October as part of 48 Hours of Action Against Samsung. The company’s horrific workers rights abuses and no-union policy have not gone unnoticed by students, who want to draw attention to the plight Samsung workers face.

Why Samsung?

Samsung have barely been out of the news in recent weeks with further revelations about their vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong’s, involvement in a bribery scandal that reached the very top of South Korean politics coming to light. Conveniently, tech lovers are also speculating as to the release date of the new Galaxy Fold phone, a welcome distraction for Samsung’s marketing department, I’m sure.

But whilst the legal battles rage and the phone specialists hold their breath, there’s one very important group that’s being overlooked in all of this: Samsung factory workers.

In June 2019 two labour-rights NGOs, Sherpa and ActionAid France, filed a complaint against Samsung claiming that the tech-giant had “misled” consumers by claiming it had a firm commitment to labour rights. Given that the company employ children under 16 years old at plants in China, Vietnam and South Korea, the NGOs speculate that this commitment is not being met. Child labour is not the only concern, however, as Samsung is accused of enforcing abusive working hours, providing accommodation that is “incompatible with human dignity”, and endangering workers lives.

Earlier this month, a controversial ruling by the South Korean courts deemed it acceptable for Samsung not to release details of it’s working environment report. Samsung workers suffering from leukemia or lymphoma cancer, as well as the families of ex-employees who died from the diseases, requested the report in an attempt to prove a correlation between the work environment and the diseases. Without this information, there will be no justice or closure for those affected and their relatives.

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Key labour rights abuses

As if corruption, child labour, enforced overtime, exposure to toxic chemicals and inadequate housing weren’t enough, Samsung workers are further oppressed by the company’s staunch “no-union” policy. Freedom of association, or the right to join a union, empowers workers to collectively bargain for change in their workplace such as fairer pay, better working conditions and an end to harassment and discrimination. Without this basic right, Samsung workers are trapped in a cycle of exploitation and abuse, unable to demand improvements from management. Workers who have attempted to form a union at Samsung’s factories have been threatened, had their phones tapped and even been followed in an attempt at intimidation. Furthermore, this no-union policy doesn’t just affect those employed directly by Samsung, it percolates through the entire Asian electronics industry. Samsung threatens to cancel contracts with suppliers who allow their workers to unionise, and this has a huge impact on the web of contractors and sub-contractors which make up the global electronics industry.

Workers in Samsung factories don’t need us to save them, they need the right to speak up and take action on the abuses they face without fear of repercussions – and this starts with forming a union.

How can you get involved?

Students across the UK and Ireland are taking to their local High Streets to stand in solidarity with workers and highlight their continued mistreatment and the shameful no-union policy. The 48 Hours of Action Against Samsung will be taking place from 25th-26th October and is being coordinated by the student activist organisation People & Planet. To find your local action or to organise your own, check out the dedicated website page here. Please direct any questions or queries to sweatshopfree@peopleandplanet.org.

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