On April 10, the day when Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5, Bloomberg Businessweek ran “Samsung’s War at Home,” an extensive report highlighting the leukemia cluster at the world’s biggest technology company and SHARPS’s advocacy efforts for the victims. The following is the link:
On April 14, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. abruptly announced that it would proactively solve “the issue of occupational disease.” The company came in response to a proposal made by labor activist-turned lawmaker Sim Sang-jung, of the Justice Party. Samsung appeared to agree to a third party-brokered compensation scheme in a move to sideline SHARPS by installing a new third party in its own terms.
This is not the first time that Samsung maneuvered to isolate SHARPS, a seven-year-long campaign working on behalf of Samsung occupational-disease victims. In 2012, the company announced it would negotiate with SHARPS without first contacting SHARPS. The first round of negotiations took place in December 2012. The negotiations have since become stranded because Samsung continued to question SHARPS’s qualifications as rightful negotiator.
The following is a full English translation of a statement released by SHARPS after Samsung’s announcement. All brackets [ ] are added by the translator.
Our Concerns and Demands
First of all, we would like to welcome an announcement today by Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd that it is sincerely considering demands raised by SHARPS and the families of [occupational disease] victims.
However, over the past seven years, Samsung has never admitted to its wrongdoing in connection with the issue of its occupational disease [cluster].It has offered neither a formal apology nor formal compensation. Worse, Samsung still alleges that leukemia and other diseases contracted by the victims are personal problems that have nothing to do with the company’s working conditions. It has been maintaining blogs called “Semiconductor Story” [Korean] to falsely allege that the company has thorough safety management and has been proactively facilitating petitions for workers’ compensation.
This is not all. SHARPS’s negotiations with Samsung have been stalled since its first meeting in December 2013. At the meeting, Samsung did not even mention such mutually agreed items on the agenda as apologies, compensation, and preventive measures but instead consistently took issue with whether SHARPS qualifies to party to the negotiations.
Samsung’s negotiators said they would not accept the word “victims” and referred to them as “case patients.” “We only have dialogue with case-patients,” Samsung negotiators said. “SHARPS activists should bring a power of attorney from the case-patients.” Samsung insisted on these although the victims’ families clearly said they would negotiate with Samsung in the name of SHARPS—just as they had fought in the past seven years.
In the past four months since the first meeting, SHARPS has repeatedly demanded that Samsung negotiate, the company’s response remains unchanged.
Then Samsung abruptly said it would announce a new position on its occupational disease victims, a day ahead of a session of the National Assembly’s environment and labor commission to discuss a resolution on [Samsung and its occupational disease crisis].
Samsung’s about-face raises more concerns than expectations.
We articulated our demands in an official letter we sent to the company in December. Central to the letter is about a public apology and a commitment to prevent the repeat [of an occupational disease cluster]. It would first respond to our demands if Samsung keenly felt the sadness and sufferings of the victims’ families and genuinely considered their demands. A solid settlement should be through already initiated negotiations with SHARPS
Samsung maneuvered the same in October 2012, ahead of Congressional inspections. Samsung passed up SHARPS and leaked a story to the press that it would have direct dialogue with its victims and their families. Doubts were cast over whether Samsung’s move whether it wanted genuine dialogue or a one-time scheme to mislead public opinion. Today’s announcement is not different. If Samsung had seriously reviewed SHARPS’ demands it should have contact SHARPS first before it contacted the press.
Once again, SHARPS calls on Samsung to sincerely negotiate with us.
A proposal by Sim Sang-jung, lawmaker of the Justice Party, calls for a third party-brokered compensation scheme. The proposal clearly included our demands on compensation, and called for Samsung’s clear response. The proposal made clear that the third part is SHARPS and called on Samsung to negotiate in good faith.
We demand the following:
First, Samsung management should officially respond to the list of demands we made in our December letter.
Second, Samsung should not stop short at announcing its unilateral positions and sincerely negotiate with SHARPS to rightly solve the issue of its occupational disease [cluster].
published by SHARPS April 14, 2014
The supply chain of Samsung Electronics is shrouded in a series of avoidable deaths as two electronics repairmen died within about 30 days apart, after the world’s largest technology company stepped up pressure on its after-sale network in a move to crush an ongoing unionization drive and to retain its chokehold on labor discipline.
Choi Jong-beom, a repairman, was found dead in his car on Oct. 31. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning as evidenced by consumed charcoals found in the vehicle. Choi was a contractor for Samsung TSP, an after-sale service provider of Samsung Electronics Service, the wholly owned unit of Samsung Electronics. The following is the suicide notes that the 31-year-old worker texted to his co-workers and union leaders:
This is Choi Jong-beom. Please capture [the screenshot] of this text message [for me]. It’s been excruciating for me to work at Samsung Electronics Service. It’s pained me because I was starving. It’s been excruciating for me to see others suffering [like I am]. I could not act the way [the late labor activist] Chon Tae-il did, but I made the choice. I wish I could help anyway.
Chon Tae-il was a 22-year-old worker who set himself afire in 1970 in protest of rampant violations of labor law in the South Korean garment industry of that era.
Death and Suicide
Choi’s death came on the heels of the tragedy of Yim Hyeon-woo, the 36-year-old Samsung repairman who died in late September of an overwork-caused brain hemorrhage. In the four months leading to his death, Yim worked spent an average of 60 hours a week repairing Samsung products at homes and offices.
Apologies and Smearing
In a rare move, Samsung Electronics Service expressed regret over Choi’s death Nov. 1. However, its contractor—and Choi’s employer—Samsung TSP quickly smeared him. Samsung TSP CEO Yi Je-keun said Choi, an employee of four years, took home an average of KRW 4.1 million (U$3,900) and KRW 5 million (U$4,700) during peak season.
A survey by the independent daily Hankyeoreh <Korean> belied CEO Yi’s allegations. According to the newspaper, for September this year, a Samsung repairman of six years working in Pohang, the city about the size of but richer than Chonan where Yim worked, took home KRW 1.05 million (U$980) after out-of-pocket expenses and costs. The take-home pay is slightly higher than a legally mandated subsistence level of KRW1.01M (U$942).
Both Yim and Choi were contractors who worked for regional contractors for Samsung Electronics Service, to which Samsung Electronics outsources all after-sale services such as repairs and maintenance of its garden-variety of electronics goods. Samsung Electronics Services owns only nine of its 107 repair branches. The remaining 98 are contractors who hire the most of Samsung’s about 6,000-strong repair staff mainly on a piecework basis.
The multi-layered supply chain enables the global electronics giant to ruthlessly pass costs on to the bottom of the hierarchy. Choi, his wife, and their ten-month-old daughter did not literally starve because his pay managed to stay above the subsistence level. However, Choi often skipped meals to keep up with schedule which often ran from 7am through 9pm in peak season.
Crushing the Union
Choi’s death came amid rising tensions between Samsung and its 6,000-strong repair staff. In August, about 1,600 workers from 64 branches formed a trade union, demanding Samsung Electronics Service to grant them full-time status in the company. Samsung has since been transferring jobs from unionized branches to non-unionized ones, cutting the unionists’ already meager wages.
Management’s harassment played the role in Choi’s suicide. A few days before his death, Samsung TSP CEO Yi threw expletives at Choi over a flimsy customer complaint against him.
The Seoul administrative court ordered KCOMWEL, the quasi-government entity responsible for workers compensation, on October 18 to withdraw its earlier decision and to pay industrial-accident payouts to the bereaved family of a former Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd employee who died in 2009 of leukemia.
The ruling is a posthumous victory for Kim Kyung-mi, who had waged a long fight until her death four years ago. Kim began work as a wafer etcher at the Giheung plant of Samsung in 1999, after graduating high school. Until 2004 when she got married, Kim has worked at the same plant where Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of Samsung’s blood disorder cluster, developed leukemia.
Marriage, Miscarriage, And Acute Leukemia
In 2005, she had a miscarriage—probably the first sign of physical anomalies because there was no family history of miscarriage. After a regimen of fertility medications and treatment, in 2007, Kim gave birth to a child.
However, in 2008, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia after she suffered bruise-like rashes on her body. The following year, she died, aged 29, after failed marrow transplants.
By 2012, KCOMWEL twice rejected petitions by Kim’s family for workers compensation. In February 2013, her family brought a lawsuit against the workers compensation entity.
Samsung victims’ lawsuits against KCOMWEL meant more than just taking on obtuse bureaucrats. Usually, the lawsuits quickly turned into a war by proxy as an army of shrewd corporate lawyers, hired by Samsung as expert witness or in other capacities, packed the courtrooms. All these have been making the legal proceedings more costly and longer for Samsung victims and their families.
More Battles to Come
KCOMWEL and the administrative court have a mixed history of workers compensation payouts in connection with Samsung.
In December 2012, KCOMWEL concluded the breast cancer of a Samsung female worker was caused by an extensive period of night work.
However, in May 2013, KCOMWEL’s six-member appeals panel, which included a doctor employed with Samsung’s hospital franchise, turned down a petition by the family of Yun Seul-ki, the female employee who died of leukemia in June 2012, after working at the Giheung plant.
In August 2013, the Seoul administrative court upheld a decision by KCOMWEL to deny a 40-year-old Samsung employee with Lou Gehrig’s disease workers-compensation payouts.
KCOMWEL has a 14-day window to appeal the decision.
A court ruling is scheduled for Han Hye-kyung, a wheelchair-bound victim of the Samsung blood-disorder cluster, for November 1.
SHARPS has obtained an internal brochure of Samsung Group, in which the conglomerate enumerates ways to respond to and eventually bust unionization drives.
The 115-page brochure, published in 2012 for an annual seminar for executives and human resources managers at Samsung’s 78 affiliates, is an intriguing read. It reveals how management of the world’s largest technology company views its employees and how it treats them. In the next two or three posts, StopSamsung will discuss and analyze the anti-union brochure.
“Samsung’s ad for its newest phone, the Galaxy Note 3, and accompanying watch, the Galaxy Gear, is possibly the worst, most oblivious piece of video ever produced by a tech company,” declared Zachary M. Seward, senior editor with Quartz.
The ad, dubbed The Developer by Samsung, features an international soccer star, Lionel Messi and the hit single Royals by Lorde. In the two-minute spot, a well-dressed mysterious developer, played by Messi, uses Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear to level a rundown neighborhood and turn into a soccer field.
Told from a child’s perspective, “The Developer” is a musical short film by Samsung featuring Lionel Messi and the hit single “Royals” by Lorde.
A mysterious stranger arrives in a low income neighborhood and captures the imaginations of the children who live there. He is “The Developer” and the children view him with a deep suspicion.
Together with his Samsung GALAXY Note 3 and GALAXY Gear, the Developer effortlessly masterminds a secret construction project. Using the latest in Samsung technology including Action Memo, Pen Window, Scrapbook and hands-free call capability on the Gear, the Developer orchestrates and executes his mysterious mission.
The children watch in awe. They reflect on their current situation by singing Lorde’s breakout hit Royals, a song about overcoming her own humble beginnings.
The spot concludes with a beautiful new pitch that has been constructed in the toughest part of town. The Developer is revealed to be the world’s reigning football star, Lionel Messi, fulfilling his personal mission to help under-privileged children.
The events in this story are a dramatic retelling of actual projects completed by the Messi Foundation. The film was directed by Adam Hashemi.
Royals by New Zealand singer Lorde is critical of ostentatious materialism and about teenager self-esteem.
“Whatever the hell is going on, it is the exact opposite of the message contained in Royals, and speaks to Samsung’s intensely weird lack of self-awareness and almost complete inability to sense irony in any form whatsoever,” said Nilay Patel, managing editor with The Verge.
A young contractor of Samsung Electronics’ customer service arm died of what appears to be overwork, after putting in an average 60 hours a week in the past four months since May.
Deadly Peak Season
On Sept. 27, Yim Hyeon-woo, an employee with Daegu Service Co, a contractor for Samsung Electronics Service, died of a brain hemorrhage. Samsung Electronics Service is a wholly owned customer service subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
The 36 year-old-repairman worked 52 hours a week at the least and more than 80 hours a week at the most in May-August of 2013, the peak season for electronics repairs, according to his work schedules obtained by independent news weekly Media Today.<Korean>
Throughout May and June, Yim worked on weekends and took only one day off. He took 30 minutes a day for lunch while visiting tens of homes and offices daily to repair or collect a variety of Samsung electronic products in the city of Daegu, South Korea’s third-largest city. At each visit, he was required to send a picture of him to his supervisor as proof that he was keeping up with the daily schedule.
Yim could only take time off for medical treatment at the cost of his piecework pay, according to a number of independent-media reports.
Yim’s “death allegedly from overwork” was the direct result of Samsung Electronics’ outsourcing policy.
Samsung Electronics outsources all repair and maintenance work to Samsung Electronics Service. Samsung Electronics Service in turn directly owns only nine of its 107 repair branches. The remaining 98 are contractors who hire the most of Samsung’s about 6,000-strong repair staff mainly on a piecework basis.
In August, about 1,600 workers from 64 branches formed a trade union, demanding Samsung Electronics Service to grant them full-time status in the company. Samsung Electronics Service effectively controls the entire repair network. It controls pay distribution for contractors and directly assigns jobs to the contract repair personnel. Also, Samsung Electronic Service regularly audits the finances of its contractors.
For Samsung, All Is Above-Board
In September, South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor ruled that Samsung should pay the contract workers overtime. However, it concluded that the way Samsung outsources repair work does not contravene the law.
The South Korean government’s acquiescence allows Samsung to continuously dump dangerous and dirty work onto small and vulnerable contractors, which in turn pass cost on to an army of contract workers.
MINBYUN, or Lawyers for a Democratic Society, filed allegations letters with the Special Producers of Human Rights Council of the UN on Sept. 25, seeking intervention in Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.’s and the South Korean government’s inaction toward the deadly occupational disease cluster at the world’s largest chipmaker.
In three separate letters, drawing on data provided by SHARPS, MINBYUN enumerated concerns about the disease cluster, ranging from consistent failures by Samsung to protect employees from hazardous chemicals, to time-consuming and costly regulatory loopholes that help financially ruin the victims and their families.
“Indulged in speedy production of products, [Samsung] did not conduct training on the danger of the chemical substance and the necessity of protecting devices and did not provide sufficient protective devices,” MINBYUN alleged.
The activist lawyers raised concerns about shortcomings at Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service (KCOMWEL), the quasi-government entity responsible for workers compensation. “Some of the victims who were rejected for industrial accident victim’s status are appealing in administrative courts asking for the status by KCOMWEL. But even when the administrative courts recognize the victims’ industrial accident status, KCOMWEL is not complying with the decisions,” the group said.
The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, part of the UN Office of the High Commissioner For Human Rights, consist of human right experts reporting and advising on human rights from a country- and theme-specific perspective. As of April 2013, the Procedures are under 36 thematic and 13 country mandates, according to its website.
Founded in 1988, MINBYUN is South Korea’s largest activist lawyers’ group, focused on labor, environmental and peace issues. The group provides consultation to the UN Economic and Social Council.
As of March 2012, SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and aplastic anemia after employment in the electronics industry in South Korea. As of June 2, 2012, 63 of the 155 have died. The majority of the workers, 138, were employed at Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics and Samsung SDS—the three electronics affiliates of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate. Among the 63 deaths were 56 Samsung employees.