Samsung and Panasonic have launched investigations into allegations of abuse made by their Nepalese workers in Malaysia after a Guardian investigation raised multiple concerns about their treatment.
The pair said that they had been deceived about pay, had their passports confiscated and had been told that they must pay large fines if they wanted to return to Nepal before the end of their contract.
They were forced to work for up to 14 hours on their feet without adequate rest, and with restricted toilet breaks. They also had to pay recruitment fees of up to £1,000 to secure their jobs.
The Guardian spoke to 30 Nepalese migrants making products for Samsung and Panasonic. Some of those working for Samsung are employed directly by the company, but the majority are hired through a labour supply company. The workers assembling or making parts for Panasonic are employed by subcontracting companies.
Both Panasonic and Samsung forbid their suppliers from confiscating passports or charging migrant workers recruitment fees. Yet all the men interviewed by the Guardian claimed they paid up to more than $1,100 to recruitment agents in Nepal to secure their jobs in Malaysia. They all also claimed that their passports were confiscated on arrival in the country. All this is illegal under Malaysian employment law.
Without their passports, the workers said they couldn’t freely leave their jobs and return home without paying fines equivalent to three or four months’ basic salary.
Both Samsung and Panasonic have said they are opening investigations into the conduct of their suppliers following the claims.
A spokesperson from Samsung 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.”
The workers interviewed by the Guardian also complained about conditions inside the factories.
“The work is extremely difficult,” said one worker at a Samsung electronics plant making microwave ovens. “You get only 45 minutes in a 12-hour shift to eat, and seven minutes every two hours to drink water.”