Photo: lamtuan_Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

A report focusing on the experiences of women working at two Samsung factories in Vietnam has been released by the Research Center for Gender Family and Environment in Development (CGFED) and IPEN, a global network of environment and health NGOs working to reduce harmful chemicals.

Photo: lamtuan_Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The electronics sector is a significant area of growth for Vietnam, as electronics exports outpace other exports. Samsung alone has over 100,000 workers, who produce approximately 50% of all Samsung phones. However, Vietnam has no labor codes specifically protecting the health of electronics industry workers, who are overwhelmingly women.

The study combines industrial sector research and qualitative narratives of 45 workers, and is the first of its kind in Vietnam to shed light on the experiences of the predominantly female electronics industry workers. Because Samsung is notoriously secretive, it offers a rare glimpse into life on the Samsung factory floor. The workers’ experiences of frequent fainting, dizziness, miscarriages, standing for eight-to-twelve hours, and alternating day/night shift work are documented. Samsung Electronics has refuted any claims of wrongdoing and said the report is different from the facts, while also threatening legal action against CGFED for this work.

Key Findings:

  • All workers reported extreme fatigue, fainting and dizziness at work.
  • Workers reported that miscarriages are extremely common — even expected.
  • Workers must stand throughout their 8- to 12-hour shifts and many are kept on alternating day and night shift schedules, regardless of weekends.
  • Pregnant workers usually stand for the entire shift to avoid having the company deduct money from their wages for taking breaks.
  • More than half of the interviewed women have children, but they are separated from them. The children live with their grandparents in another town or city.
  • Workers reported problems with eyesight, nose bleeds, and stomach aches, as well as bone, joint, and leg pain.
  • Workers’ lives are controlled inside and outside of work. Breaks are short and limited, and workers must request special passes to use the restroom. Workers are restricted from speaking about work because of fear of reprisals.
  • The need for further research regarding chemical exposure is necessary. Despite the fact that workers are stationed in open factory settings where other workers use a variety of substances, they did not consider assembly line work a chemical risk.

The study, says the Hanoi-based research group that conducted the research, is a rare opportunity for consumers and policy makers to learn about the harsh working conditions that the female workers making the ubiquitous phones must endure.

Ms. Pham Thi Minh Hang from CGFED highlights

“We hope that people buying smart-phones will be more aware of the workers on the assembly lines making their phones”. Continuing with; “The women we interviewed endure ongoing labor code violations, workplace dangers and health hazards. All the women reported dizziness or fainting at work. This is not normal. They reported inhumane overtime and intense production demands. Workers are often prevented from speaking out about their working conditions by company rules that claim all expressions about life inside the factory constitute trade secrets. We hope that the information in this report will bring about better protections for workers, and that consumers will demand decent working conditions for workers who make the electronics in their homes and pockets.”

The report underscores the need for better protections for Vietnam’s large and growing electronics work force, and the need for transparency around industrial chemicals used throughout electronics production.

Joe DiGangi, PhD., IPEN Senior Science and Technical Advisor also expresses that;

“This study is important because the lives and rights of workers in the electronics industry in Vietnam have been neglected in research and policy. Companies make a lot of money in Vietnam, but their profit rests on the tired shoulders of the female-majority workforce. Comprehensive regulations should be developed and enforced to ensure worker safety in the electronics industry. Economic development must be concerned not just with GDP, but equally consider impacts on the health of workers and communities in developing and transition country economies where the electronics industry is rapidly expanding.”

Read the full press release here.