A trio of French rights and consumer protection organisations said on Tuesday that they had filed a legal complaint against South Korea's Samsung Electronics over working conditions at its plants in China.
The groups, Peuples Solidaires, Sherpa and Indecosa-CGT, accused Samsung of deceiving consumers by violating its own promises on ethical working conditions and using child labour.
"While Samsung claims to respect the rights of the workers making its products by imposing codes of conduct including strict ethical standards, it closes its eyes to the disgraceful working conditions that prevail in the Chinese factories that manufacture on its behalf," the groups said in a statement.
It was not clear whether the French courts would agree to hear the complaint or what consequences the suit could have on Samsung's operations on France.
Samsung has acknowledged criticism of its plants in China but rejected charges of "inhumane" working conditions as "totally unfair".
It was reacting to a report in September by the US-based monitor China Labour Watch that contained a damning indictment of Samsung, saying the company forced employees at its China plants to work up to five times the legal overtime limit and denied them basic labour rights.
The group also alleged that children under the age of 16 were employed at one of Samsung's Chinese suppliers, HEG Electronics in Huizhou. The company said in November that a probe of its Chinese suppliers had found no evidence of alleged child labour.
The French groups said they were basing their complaint on the China Labour Watch report and described the suit as unprecedented.
"The French courts have never before ruled on the question of whether a company's deceitful ethical commitments can constitute a fraudulent commercial practice and so be a criminal offense."