Paris, July 3rd, 2019 – After an epic judicial procedure initiated by Sherpa and ActionAid France more than 6 years ago, SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS France SAS has been indicted on misleading advertising. SAMSUNG displays ethical commitments on workers’ rights that it does not respect in its factories in China, Korea and Vietnam. In fact, many NGOs denounce fundamental rights’ violations in serious investigations reports: employment of children under the age of sixteen years old; abusive working hours; working conditions and accommodation incompatible with human dignity and endangering workers life.
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 Korea.
SAMSUNG proclaims to be “one of the most ethical companies in the world” , it must therefore report on its commitments to the courts.
A historic step in the fight against corporate impunity
The indictment of SAMSUNG France, which comes only ten months after Lafarge’s indictment for its activities in Syria, is a new landmark step in the fight against multinationals impunity.
More than twenty years after the case initiated in the United States on the same legal ground against Nike, in which the company was convicted for non-compliance with the commitments made in its code of conduct on the working conditions of its workers, for the first time in France, an investigating magistrate recognizes that ethical commitments made by a company are likely to constitute commercial practices that engage, as such, their issuer.
The decision is historic, as it is rare for a French company to be sued by the courts for its activities abroad.
As a reminder, the SAMSUNG group has reached $219 billion in turnover in 2018, and SAMSUNG France more than 3 billion in 2017, while factory workers in Asia are mostly paid less than 200 euros per month, sometimes to assemble around 1600 phones a day.
“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” according to Sandra Cossart, director at Sherpa.”
For William Bourdon, founder and former president of Sherpa:
at a time when large multinationals are increasingly asserting themselves as co-responsible for the fate of the planet and the respect of fundamental rights, at a time when they say they want to contribute to the reduction of global warming, it is essential for ethical commitments to be sanctioned when they have no other ambition than to seduce the consumer, while 10,000 kms away a reality in total contradiction with these commitments is tolerated.
Serious violations of workers’ rights denounced in China, South Korea and Vietnam
Despite the ethical commitments made by SAMSUNG, the key elements of the lawsuit would make it possible to characterize serious violations of fundamental rights. In addition, the use of toxic chemicals without adequate protection in Korean factories, including benzene and methanol, has caused incurable diseases. At least 465 workers would be affected, 135 of whom are already dead.
Revelations of abuses in SAMSUNG factories have been reported by NGOs and medias, the most recent denouncing the dramatic exploitation of workers in India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
For 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.”
For Li Qiang, Executive Director of China Labor Watch whose reports were an important part of the lawsuit:
“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.”
Note to the media
- Legal innovations
The legal innovation of this case, initiated by Sherpa and ActionAid France, is twofold:
- It allows the Parisian courts to have jurisdiction when the commitments are disseminated in France, especially in Paris, even if commitments’ violations occur abroad. The ethical commitments made by SAMSUNG are aimed at French consumers who are increasingly concerned by the manufacturing conditions of their phones.
- It allows for the ethical commitments on human rights to be integrated into a legally binding framework, even though multinationals consider them voluntary.
The adoption of the law on the duty of vigilance in France in 2017, which Sherpa and ActionAid France initiated, created, for the first time the legal obligation for multinationals to ensure the respect of human rights on their entire value chain.
This case could also fill a gap since the law on the duty of vigilance only applies to the biggest companies, excluding Samsung France from its field. However, the legal basis of misleading advertising does not allow the first victims, SAMSUNG workers, to be compensated. This case should therefore encourage the legislator to lower the thresholds of the law on the duty of vigilance.
 According to Korean NGO SHARPS, and it only includes the people it could identify (see our previous PR https://www.asso-sherpa.org/opening-of-a-judicial-investigation-in-paris-in-the-samsung-case)
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