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China supplier of Samsung, Lenovo denies using child workers

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) - A China-based supplier for Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Lenovo Group Ltd said on Thursday it had never hired child laborers, denying allegations by a U.S.-based activist group.

Samsung Electronics also said it had found no children or students working on the Samsung production line at the Huizhou-based factory of supplier HEG Technology, which was cited as violating China's labor laws by the New York-based watchdog China Labor Watch.

A Lenovo spokeswoman said the company would look into the report.

In a statement, China Labor Watch said it had found more than 10 children working at the HEG factory during an investigation that took place in July and August. It also said the probe had found over 100 student workers who were not being paid overtime wages or a night shift subsidy.

The watchdog said it had shared the evidence with Samsung last week and that Samsung demanded the supplier pay some students' wages. It did not say whether Samsung took any action on the matter of child labor or whether it had reached out to Lenovo with the information.

An employee surnamed Zeng at HEG Technology's human resources department told Reuters the company had never hired children, and that it had facial recognition systems in place to ensure workers were not underage.

For Samsung products, HEG employs workers aged 18 and over while the minimum age for workers on Lenovo's product lines is 16 years, she said. The company relies on an outsourcing company to hire students, she added.

In its statement, Samsung said it had proposed to China Labor Watch that they conduct a joint onsite investigation "for more precise verification" of the allegations.

Samsung also said it had informed the watchdog about the results of its own investigation, adding: "We find it regrettable that CLW issued the allegations today without any mention of our statement."

This is the second time in as many months that China Labor Watch has said it found children working at Samsung's Chinese suppliers. Samsung halted business with one supplier and later reinstated it, but with a 30 percent reduction in orders.

Other multinational companies, including Apple Inc, have been plagued by revelations of underage workers in their supply chains.

Child workers have previously been discovered at Foxconn, the supplier for some of the world's biggest tech brands, including Apple. Foxconn is the trading name of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry.

Two years ago, China Labor Watch accused HEG of using child labor. Samsung subsequently said it had not found any workers below the legal working age of 16 in its audit of the facility.

The problem goes beyond electronics, according to the U.S. Department of Labour's Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Bricks, cotton, fireworks, textiles and toys also feature on its list of goods which it says it has reason to believe are produced by child labor in China.

(Reporting by Se Young Lee in SEOUL and Beijing Newsroom and Gerry Shih in BEIJING; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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