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French NGOs sue Samsung over alleged child labour in China

media A flag bearing the logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its office in Seoul, South Korea February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Two French rights groups said on Thursday they had filed a legal case against South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and its French subsidiary over working conditions in its Chinese factories.

Non-governmental organisations Sherpa and ActionAid-Peuples Solidaires accuse Samsung Electronics of violating the fundamental rights of its employees in factories located in China, contradicting its commitment to becoming "one of the most ethical companies in the world".

“We’re asking the judicial authority to sanction this unacceptable gap between these ethical commitments and the reality as observed in the factories by local NGOs,” Sherpa said in a statement.

One of those local NGOs, China Labor Watch, said it had secretly inspected several factories of the Samsung group in China and observed workers under the age of 16.

The NGOs also claim that Samsung uses benzene and methanol in its factories, causing incurable illnesses among some of its employees.

Samsung Electronics, the world’s biggest maker of semiconductors, televisions and smartphones says on its website that it “will respect the basic human rights of all employees” and it “will not employ underage persons”.

It also says it will respect local laws to safeguard the health of employees.

France adopted a “corporate duty vigilance law” last year, under which multinational companies that sell their products in France must respect human rights and the environment wherever they operate.

Sherpa was also behind legal action against cement group LafargeHolcim for having allegedly paid armed groups including the Islamic State armed group to keep operating in Syria from 2011-2015.

A previous case against Samsung was shelved by prosecutors in 2014.

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