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Samsung lawsuit (re misleading advertising & labour rights abuses)

Pour la version française de ce profil, cliquez ici.

Since 2013, the human rights and workers' rights organizations Sherpa, ActionAid France – Peuples Solidaires and Indecosa-CGT have filed various claims against Samsung Electronics and its subsidiaries in different French courts. The organizations assert that Samsung's public ethical commitments constitute misleading advertising in light of evidence of alleged human rights violations in the companies' factories in China, Vietnam and South Korea.

 

2013 legal action

On 26 February 2013, the three claimants submitted a complaint to the Public Prosecutor against Samsung France and X (in French civil procedure, a complaint lodged against X allows a defendant to bring an action against a person whose identity they do not know). The organizations allege misleading advertising practices, based on the incompatibility between Samsung's public ethical commitment to being a "socially responsible" company and a report from China Labor Watch which alleges frequent unpaid overtime, the absence of adequate safety measures, and compulsory work practices in Samsung's subcontractors factories in China.

On 8 July 2013, the Prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation to determine whether the brand's ethical commitments constitute misleading advertising in relation to working conditions for product fabrication. On 3 December 2014, the Public Prosecutor dismissed the complaint after a hearing with the legal director of Samsung France, research on Samsung's website, and an interview with the director of Samsung's Department for the Protection of Populations. Sherpa described this inquiry as superficial arguing that it did not adequately address the situation at its suppliers' factories.

2015 legal action

On 17 December 2015, Sherpa and Indecosa-CGT summoned Samsung Global and its subsidiary, Samsung Electronics France, to appear before the Court of Bobigny for deceptive marketing practices. According to Sherpa, this was the first time that consumer protection laws were used in France to file a case against a multinational company in relation to alleged human rights violations in its foreign subsidiaries.

Based on additional evidence (including from 2014 and 2015 reports by China Labor Watch) the lawsuit alleges the use child labour, unpaid overtime, absence of adapted security measures for employees performing dangerous tasks, use of carcinogenic substances, and the exercise of moral pressure and physical violence by employers. Moreover, the organizations added the South Korean parent company, Samsung Electronics Co., in the legal action in order to circumvent Samsung France's argument denying all liability with regards to its head office. Relying on this additional evidence, claimants used the private prosecution procedure which does not require the Public Prosecutor to investigate and gives direct access to the courts without investigation. On January 11, 2017, the judge set the costs of the procedure and the date for the substantive hearing on December 5, 2017. However, in light of new elements that could be used as evidence, the plaintiffs did not follow through on this procedure and had to withdraw from the proceeding.

2018 legal actions

On 11 January 2018, Sherpa and ActionAid France – Peuples solidaires filed a new lawsuit against Samsung Electronics France and its South Korean parent company, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd in front of the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris, alleging misleading business practices. The evidence gathered for this lawsuit includes reports by China Labor Watch documenting the exploitation of children under sixteen, excessive working hours, dangerous working conditions due to lack of proper equipment, working conditions and accommodation incompatible with human dignity, and the presence of benzene and methanol in Korean factories, which presents a health hazard for employees.

Samsung France denied these accusations and claimed to respect all international and national labour norms in its supply chains. It furthermore emphasised its zero-tolerance policy for child labour.

Following a short preliminary investigation, the Bobigny prosecutor, to whom the case had been transferred, decided to close the preliminary investigation on 6 March.

On 25 June 2018, Sherpa and ActionAid France - Peuples solidaires filed a civil party lawsuit to the Paris court following the closing of the case by the Bobigny public prosecutor. The organizations argue that evidence of working conditions at Samsung LCD in Korea and Vietnam are linked to serious diseases developed by workers justifies the request for instruction by an investigating judge.

On 1 November 2018, following mediation procedure, Samsung recognised exposing its South Korean factory workers to toxic chemicals and agreed to pay compensation for each employee suffering from work-related diseases.

On 17 April 2019, an investigating judge of a Paris Tribunal indicted Samsung Electronic France for misleading advertising. 

News:

- Samsung could end up in French court over ethics pledges: NGOs, AFP, 3 Jul 2019
- [FR] L'envers du décor: deux ONG accusent Samsung d'utiliser des enfants en Asie pour fabriquer ses smartphones, Newsmonkey, 12 Jan 2018
- [FR] Samsung visé par une plainte pour pratiques commerciales trompeuses, France TV Info, 11 Jan 2018
- [FR] Travail des enfants : une association attaque Samsung en justice, Numerama, 11 Jan 2018
- [FR] « Conditions de travail inhumaines » : une ONG porte plainte contre Samsung, Le Parisien, 11 Jan 2018
- [EN] Samsung hit with lawsuit over misleading advertising related to alleged human rights violations, CNBC, 11 Jan 2018
- [EN] French group sue Samsung amid alleged labor abuse, Business Insider, 11 Jan 2018
- [FR] Sherpa contre Samsung, la soft law en ligne de mire, France Culture, 11 janvier 2017
- [FR] Téléphonie : Une ONG attaque Samsung France en justice, Le Parisien, 17 Dec 2015
- [FR] Plainte contre Samsung, accusé de bafouer ses engagements éthiques en Chine, Novethic, 27 Feb 2013

Company documents:
- [EN] The values that define Samsung's spirit

NGOs documents:

- Violations of workers' rights: landmark indictment of SAMSUNG France for misleading advertising, Sherpa, 3 Jul 2019
- [FR] SAMSUNG : Sherpa et ActionAid France déposent plainte avec constitution de partie civile contre le leader mondial du smartphone, Sherpa, 25 June 2018
- [EN] Samsung target of a lawsuit that would expose human rights violations, Sherpa and ActionAid France, 11 Jan 2018
- [EN] Sherpa's 2015 Activity Report, Sherpa, 2016
- [FR] France : l'association Sherpa cite à comparaitre Samsung pour pratiques commerciales trompeuses suite à de nouvelles révélations sur le travail des enfants en Chine, Sherpa, 17 Dec 2015
- [FR] Samsung, le leader mondial des smartphones, poursuivi pour pratiques commerciales trompeuses, Sherpa, 17 Dec 2015
- [EN] Samsung in China: an attack on the fundamental rights of workers, Sherpa, 6 Dec 2013

Company Responses

Samsung View Response

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