Samsung flies journalist to factory. Gets what it paid for.

May 5, 2014, 4:58 PM UTC

Samsung photo via Business Insider

FORTUNE — To his credit, Business Insider‘s Steve Kovach ends his report on Samsung’s smartphone factory in Gumi, South Korea, with a disclosure:

Samsung paid for a portion of our trip to South Korea for this story, including the flight and some meals.”

But he gets no credit for the rest of the story, which doesn’t mention Apple (AAPL) by name, but whose subtext is the presumed contrast to Foxconn’s factories in China where Apple’s devices are assembled — with their “crowded, disgusting worker dorms and grueling factory floor conditions.”

According to Kovach:

That’s not what Samsung’s mobile device factory in Gumi, South Korea was like when I visited in early April. The facility, which resembles a college campus more than a manufacturing center, is spotted with well-manicured outdoor recreational areas that have soothing music pumping from outdoor speakers disguised as rocks.

Inside, it’s so pristine, so clean you could eat off the floor. Fluorescent lighting reflects off the spotless, white linoleum. Visitors have to wear plastic shrinkwrap bootie things on their shoes to prevent dust and dirt from getting inside. The atmosphere is more like a sanitary hospital wing than a facility that pumps out thousands of smartphones a day.

Kovach is apparently unaware that the booties and spotless floors are common to all smartphone factories and are for the benefit of the devices, not the workers.

And if he had done his due diligence he would have discovered that Samsung’s devices are also manufactured in Vietnam, Malaysia, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and even Foxconn’s Chinese factories, and that there have been complaints.

Kovach’s readers were quick to point out his oversight.

“Eat off the floor — just remember to step over the bodies first,” wrote a commentator called Duh who rattled off a list of Samsung labor problems that anyone could discover with a simple Google search:

  • The death by carbon dioxide of a 52-year-old worker in Suwon, South Korea
  • The injury of three workers after a hydrofluoric acid leak at Samsung’s main chip plant in Hwaseong
  • Reports, via China Labor Watch, of excessive working hours, exhausting rates of work, child workers, insufficient safety training, regular verbal abuse by management and workers forced to work barefoot. See More labor abuse in Samsung phone factory.

UPDATE: Kovach responds that his story does offer this caveat, which in fairness I should have mentioned:

“The Gumi factory isn’t Samsung’s only manufacturing facility where it makes the Galaxy S5 and other gizmos. Samsung has factories all of the world, so it’s tough to tell if what I saw in Gumi is representative of the company’s entire manufacturing network. It’s very possible things aren’t as rosy in the poorer countries where Samsung operates.”


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