Two French human rights groups have filed a lawsuit against electronics giant Samsung, accusing it of misleading advertising because of alleged labour abuses at factories in China and South Korea.
It is the latest labour challenge to Seoul-based Samsung, which has faced growing health complaints from workers in recent years even as profits soar thanks to its blockbuster semiconductor business.
The lawsuit filed today (11 January) in a Paris court by Sherpa and ActionAid names Samsung Global in Seoul and its French subsidiary. It is now up to the court to decide whether to take up the case.
The complaint accuses Samsung of deceptive trade practices, based on documents from China Labour Watch and others alleging violations including exploitation of children, excessive working hours and use of dangerous equipment and gases.
Samsung did not immediately comment. On its website, it says it maintains "a world-class environment, safety and health infrastructure and rigorous standards to safeguard our employees' well-being".
The lawsuit is part of larger efforts by rights groups to use French courts to hold multinationals to account for alleged wrongdoing and to push for an international treaty against corporate abuses.
The groups argue that French consumers were among those deceived by Samsung's pledges of ethical treatment of workers and therefore French courts can rule in the case.
But they want to call attention to the problem beyond French borders.
"We hope to make things evolve not only in France but on an international level," said Marie-Laure Guislain, legal director for Sherpa.
"It's not just about Samsung," she told Associated Press. "It's the rights of workers under question."
China Labour Watch has published several reports on child labour at Samsung suppliers in China based on years of undercover investigations.
The New York-based nonprofit has long investigated working conditions at suppliers to some of the world's best-known companies including Walt Disney and Apple.
In South Korea, where Samsung is a national icon, courts recently have begun to rule in favour of workers believed to have suffered health problems because of chemicals used in manufacturing. Many former Samsung workers have sought compensation or financial aid from the government or from Samsung for a possible occupational disease.
Samsung is also recovering from a management crisis after its de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, was sentenced to prison for bribery and other charges, and the heads of its semiconductor, mobile business and TV divisions left the firm.