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Samsung lawsuit (re misleading advertising & labour rights abuses)

samsung wikipedia commons

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

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All components of this story

Company response
8 July 2019

Samsung's response to Sherpa case

Author: Samsung Electronics

... We are aware of the legal complaint against Samsung... We are disputing its validity, and cannot comment further on the content of the investigation since this is an ongoing proceeding. We wish to remove any ambiguity created by the word “indicted”... Samsung France has been put under examination, which means that the investigation is still ongoing and that no conclusive decision has been taken regarding the allegations...

The issues highlighted by SHERPA date back several years, and concern reports or incidents to which Samsung has responded previously. We wish to share with you specifically how we have dealt and are dealing with Child Labor, responsible minerals as well as our commitments to uphold labor and human rights.

Samsung upholds a zero tolerance policy on child labor - both in our own facilities and the facilities of our suppliers...  all of our subsidiaries and suppliers, and not only in China, must comply with the strict employment process (age verification) to prevent child labor employment...

...we have been investigating all cobalt smelters related to our company...

Download the full document here

Article
4 July 2019

France: Samsung indicted for misleading advertising amidst alleged human rights violations

Author: ActionAid

"Landmark indictment of Samsung France for misleading advertising", 3 July 2019

...After an epic judicial procedure initiated in France by Sherpa and ActionAid more than six years ago, Samsung Electronics France SAS has been indicted for misleading advertising...

...many NGOs have...highlighted violations such as the employment of children...abusive working hours, working conditions and accommodation incompatible with human dignity and endangering workers’ lives.

This indictment comes after a new complaint was filed by Sherpa and ActionAid France on June 25, 2018 against Samsung France and the parent company in South Korea...Samsung...must now report on its commitments to the courts....

...Sandra Cossart, director at Sherpa...“Companies that benefit from their proclaimed virtuous image must no longer be able to violate their own commitments without facing legal consequences...It is now urgent to globally regulate the activities of multinationals by ensuring the adoption of the International Treaty, and to put in application the historic law on the duty of vigilance adopted in France in 2017.”...

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Article
4 July 2019

Samsung indicted for misleading advertising following complaint regarding workers’ rights violations

Author: Asso Sherpa

"Violations of workers’ rights: landmark indictment of SAMSUNG France for misleading advertising", 3 July 2019

...Samsung Electronics France SAS has been indicted on misleading advertising...by an investigating judge at the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris.

SAMSUNG displays ethical commitments on workers’ rights that it does not respect in its factories...many NGOs denounce fundamental rights’ violations in serious investigations reports...

“Companies that benefit from their proclaimed virtuous image must no longer be able to violate their own commitments without facing legal consequences. It is now urgent to regulate globally the activities of multinational by ensuring the adoption of the International Treaty, and to put in application the historic law on the duty of vigilance adopted in France in 2017”...Sandra Cossart, director at Sherpa.

Chloe Stevenson, ActionAid France campaigner, “workers are often the first victims of human rights violations related to multinationals activities like Samsung. Making this type of ethical commitment binding would also be a way to prevent the reproduction of such abuses.”

Li Qiang, Executive Director of China Labor Watch: “Samsung has decreased their production facilities in China, however, they’ve shifted these to other countries where they continue to violate the rights of workers. We hope that Samsung will uphold the rights of workers and make fundamental improvements to working conditions across their supply chain.”

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Article
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Author: Corinne Audouin, France Inter

Des mineurs de moins de 16 ans employés à la chaîne pour assembler des téléphones. Des horaires de travail à rallonge. Des conditions d'hébergement déplorables, entassés à 6 ou 8 dans un dortoir de 10 m², sans eau courante. L'exposition sans protection à des substances chimiques toxiques. C'est ce qu'ont constaté entre 2012 et 2017 plusieurs ONG dans des usines où sont fabriqués les produits Samsung.

Pourtant...[s]ur le site français de la marque [Samsung], on peut lire à la rubrique "Philosophie" : "Samsung s’engage à respecter les lois et les réglementations locales ainsi qu’à appliquer un strict code de conduite global à l’ensemble de son personnel [...] Samsung est déterminée à devenir une entreprise citoyenne socialement et environnementalement responsable dans toutes ses communautés, de par le monde."

Ces beaux discours ont-ils valeur d'engagement commercial ?...

Pour la première fois, un magistrat français a estimé que ces promesses ne devaient pas rester des paroles en l'air. Le 17 avril dernier, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, juge d'instruction au pôle financier du TGI de Paris, a mis en examen Samsung France, pour avoir, entre 2012 et 2017, commis des "pratiques commerciales trompeuses" en diffusant sur son site internet des engagements éthiques, notamment le respect des droits fondamentaux (interdiction du travail forcé, exploitation salariale, esclavage des enfants), la responsabilité sociale et environnementale de la société, et le recours à des fournisseurs intègres...

Chez Samsung France, "on ne commente pas une procédure en cours". Un responsable du service de presse nous a indiqué que l'entreprise conteste le bien fondé des plaintes : "Il est de notre responsabilité de veiller à ce que Samsung, ses fournisseurs et ses sous-traitants respectent les meilleures pratiques concernant les conditions de travail, la protection de l'environnement et le respect des réglementations locales."

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Article
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Author: Sherpa et ActionAid France

Après une épopée judiciaire initiée par Sherpa et ActionAid France il y a plus de six ans, SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS France SAS a été mise en examen du chef de pratiques commerciales trompeuses le 17 avril 2019. L'entreprise affiche des engagements éthiques sur les droits des travailleurs qu'elle ne respecterait pas dans ses usines en Chine, en Corée et au Vietnam. Des ONG dénoncent en effet, investigations à l'appui, des violations graves des droits fondamentaux : emploi d'enfants de moins de seize ans, horaires de travail abusifs, conditions de travail et d'hébergement incompatibles avec la dignité humaine et mise en danger des travailleurs.

Cette mise en examen intervient à la suite d’une nouvelle plainte avec constitution de partie civile déposée par Sherpa et ActionAid France le 25 juin 2018 devant le doyen des juges d’instruction du Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris contre SAMSUNG France ainsi que la maison-mère en Corée. Si SAMSUNG entend devenir « l’une des entreprises les plus éthiques au monde », elle doit rendre compte de ses engagements devant la justice...

Malgré les engagements éthiques pris par SAMSUNG, les éléments versés à la plainte permettraient de caractériser de graves violations des droits humains. Par ailleurs, l’utilisation de produits toxiques sans protection dans les usines coréennes, dont le benzène et le méthanol, ont causé des maladies incurables chez des centaines d’employés. Au moins 465 ouvriers et ouvrières seraient concernés, dont 135 seraient déjà morts...

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Article
23 June 2019

Report finds exploitative working conditions in Samsung factories across Asia

Author: Hankyoreh (South Korea)

"Worked to death at the ripe age of 22", 23 June 2019

...Hankyoreh reporters visited nine cities in Vietnam, India, and Indonesia...this is the first attempt by a media organization to link the situation in South Korea with other countries.

...This five-part series will be assessing Samsung Electronics’ sustainability...

...Samsung is exploiting the young people of Asia...Youth who are hired as irregular workers stick with grueling jobs with the hope of a permanent position only to be kicked out of the job when they reach their mid-20s. Though Samsung prides itself on being one of the world’s leading companies, its working conditions are barely sufficient for these workers to keep food on the table.

At Samsung Electronics plants in India, Vietnam, and Indonesia, Hankyoreh reporters found that the company was engaged in various activities that either skirted local laws and international standards or overtly violated them. Workers at plants in these countries shared their personal experiences with violations of minimum wage and probationary worker laws, forced labor, unfair termination, and verbal abuse, among other matters.

This violates Samsung’s promise to protect labor rights and the rights of overseas workers…stipulated in the migrant workers’ guidelines that the company announced in 2016. It also violates the company’s declaration to strictly comply with international norms…

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Article
14 November 2018

Judicial investigation launched against Samsung following complaint over misleading practices and compensation for ill workers and families of the deceased

Author: Asso Sherpa

"Opening of a judicial investigation in Paris in the Samsung case", 14 November 2018

 As a judicial investigation was launched in France, Samsung has recognized exposing its workers to toxic chemicals without adequately protecting and informing them about the toxicity of products handled in its Korean factories....

...An investigating judge was nominated following the complaint filed..for misleading commercial practices by Sherpa and ActionAid Peuples-Solidaires against Samsung Electronics France, and its South Korean parent company, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.​​​​...

...The mediation panel set up to propose a compensation for ill workers and the legal successors of deceased workers gave out its decision..This...puts an end to more than a decade-long dispute between the company, ill workers and family members of former employees now deceased.

..."More than ever, the discrepancy between the reality of working conditions of employees, their serious illnesses, the deaths of former workers and the ethical engagement of SAMSUNG must be sanctioned by the French justice. We welcome the opening of the judicial investigation by Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke in front of the Paris court," said Marie-Laure Guislain, head of Litigation at Sherpa.

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Article
14 November 2018

SAMSUNG takes responsibility and agrees to compensate workers of its South Korean factories who have serious work-related illnesses

Author: Sherpa

As a judicial investigation was launched in France, Samsung has recognized exposing its workers to toxic chemicals without adequately protecting and informing them about the toxicity of products handled in its Korean factories.  This news could influence the future judicial investigation.  An investigating judge was nominated following the complaint filed on June 25, 2018, for misleading commercial practices by Sherpa and ActionAid Peuples-Solidaires against Samsung Electronics France, and its South Korean parent company, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.​​​​  Civil parties were heard in the course of the investigation on October 16...The mediation panel set up to propose a compensation for ill workers and the legal successors of deceased workers gave out its decision on November, 1...

Samsung was asked to pay up to 150 million won (116 324 euros) for each employee suffering from work-related diseases, the mediation committee led by a former supreme justice said in a statement.  All former and current Samsung employees as well as the company’s contractors who worked at Samsung’s semiconductor and display production plants for more than one year since 1984 are eligible to be compensated for their illnesses. The majority of eligible employees are women below 30 years old. At least 200 workers are concerned...

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Article
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Author: Le Parisien

Le numéro 1 mondial des smartphones est encore mis en cause pour les conditions de travail de ses ouvriers en Chine. L'association française Sherpa dépose plainte ce jeudi...Alors que de nombreux produits et téléphones Samsung se retrouveront au pied des sapins de Noël le 24 décembre, « selon des rapports de CLW, Samsung France tromperait les consommateurs en publiant des engagements éthiques qu'il affirme respecter partout dans le monde », explique Sherpa...« Les pratiques et le discours de Samsung méritent d'être sanctionnés, estime de son côté Alain Bazot, président de l'UFC-Que choisir, la principale association de consommateurs en France. Cela répond à une attente du consommateur qui devient de plus en plus exigeant sur la traçabilité des produits. »

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Article
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Author: Pauline Gilles, NewsMonkey

Deux ONG françaises accusent Samsung de recourir à des enfants de moins de 16 ans dans les usines de ses sous-traitants. En plus de conditions de travail et d'hébergements abominables, les enfants manipuleraient des produits toxiques et potentiellement mortelles...Sherpa et Peuples Solidaires ont Samsung dans le viseur depuis 2012, date à laquelle les organismes de terrain ont entamé leurs premières investigations. Mais aujourd'hui, de nouveaux rapports provenant de l'ONG américaine China Labor Watch viennent étayer leur dossier...Et ce n'est pas une grande première. Sherpa avait déjà déposé plainte en décembre 2015 contre Samsung, après une première plainte classée sans suite en 2013 et une autre fin 2014...De son côté, Samsung nie les allégations et affirme, dans un communiqué de presse, pratiquer une "politique de tolérance zéro sur le travail des enfants aussi bien dans ses propres installations que chez ses fournisseurs".

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