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UN Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak says some South Korea media have “grossly misrepresented his report on Samsung.  Source: Twitter

 

In an unusual break from a usual diplomatic tone, a UN hazardous chemicals expert has criticized South Korean media for glossing over his report on Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and its occupational-disease cluster.

A series of South Korea’s media reports downplayed UN Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak’s report on the country when they said he did not turn up any evidence tying Samsung’s working conditions with the diseases and disabilities of its workers, said the human rights and hazardous substances and wastes expert, in an op-ed on Sept. 19 for the independent daily Hankyoreh.

Gross Misrepresentation

“Certain recent media articles [in South Korea] grossly misrepresent my report as not finding evidence that working conditions at Samsung Electronics led to diseases or disabilities among former workers,” said Mr. Tuncak.  “Based on my conversations with companies, the government, scientists, attorneys, mediators and victims, this is far from the truth.”

The opening salvo of the fusillade of false reports was fired on the Sunday evening of Sept. 11 by Yonhap News, the country’s publicly chartered news agency which has little reason to kowtow to Samsung, its largest corporate ad buyer, but often does nevertheless.

The Yonhap dispatch was quickly rehashed and distributed by more than thirty news outlets.

While there is no evidence of direct corporate involvement, the dissemination of the falsified report fit the usual pattern by Samsung of spinning the news: the conglomerate often puts out negative or even false news over weekends to have news outlets release it without fact-checking.

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On the Sunday evening of Sept. 11, a series of news reports emerged, falsely claiming that the UN probe did not turn up any evidence tying Samsung’s working conditions with its occupational disease cluster.  Source: Huffpost Korea

Findings

On Sept. 16, Mr. Tuncak, a lawyer and a chemist, made a presentation based on his report at the 33rd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.  The 24-page report, dated Aug. 3, delineated a wide range of topics from the Samsung cluster to the Oxy Reckitt Benckiser disinfectant scandal.  The following are highlights on Samsung:

  • On Samsung’s refusal to disclose chemicals used during employment of the cluster victims. “The Special Rapporteur reiterates that, under international laws, global policy frameworks and national law, health and safety information on hazardous substances should not be confidential.”
  • On the government’s inaction. “Apart from these investigations and the industrial accident compensation insurance scheme, the Special Rapporteur notes a surprisingly low level of action taken by the Government, the primary duty bearer when it comes to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of workers and of victims to an effective remedy.”
  • On the Ombudsman Committee to monitor Samsung’s safety efforts. “The Special Rapporteur welcomes the establishment of the Ombudsman Committee, and looks forward to its implementation with both transparency and meaningful public participation by all stakeholders.”
  • On the transparency of compensation. “The Special Rapporteur understands there are concerns regarding how the compensation process adhered to the recommendations of the Mediation Committee and encourages all parties to increase transparency and participation in this regard.”
  • On the burden of proving the work-relatedness of illnesses. “The causal relationship need not be proven medically or scientifically but can be inferred from the consideration of various situational factors. Consideration of all the circumstances, such as the health of the worker at the time of employment, possible explanations for the disease, whether any hazardous substances existed in the workplace and the amount of time the worker spent in the workplace, makes possible the conclusion that there is a proximate causal relationship between the worker’s duties and the disease.”

SHARPS Goes To Geneva

Kwon Young-eun, SHARPS’s full-time organizer, partook in the UN Human Rights Council.  On Sept. 14, joined by other activists from NGOS in South Korea, she mounted a street performance on the cluster victims.  On Sept. 16, SHARPS co-hosted a side session on chemical hazards caused by multinationals in Asia, where Mr. Tuncak also spoke.

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SHARPS’s Sit-in To Mark One-Year Milestone

Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:  1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 2) make a sincere and full apology.

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At SHARPS’ sit-in site, each pair of white rubber sleepers represents a cluster victim.  Credit: Lee Ki-hwa

Korea Workers Compensation and Welfare Service (KCOMWEL) has posthumously granted workers compensation benefits to two Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.workers, after deeming their lung cancers to be occupationally caused—the service’s first-ever admission of a pulmonary condition as an occupational disease for semiconductor workers.

 Counterbalance

On Aug. 29th and 30th KCOMWEL approved workers comp benefits for Lee Gyeong-hui and Song Yu-gyeong, based on epidemiological findings by its lung disease investigation unit.

KCOMWEL’s approval is a counterbalance to the latest ruling by the country’s highest court, which turned down three Samsung employees’ workers comp petitions by passing the burden of proof  on to the infirm or deceased workers for their occupational disease claims.

The Victims

Employed at Samsung’s chip lab in April 1994, Lee resigned from the job in Nov. 2011, after his diagnosis with lung cancer.  He died, at age 41, in May 2012.  Five month later, his family petitioned for workers comp.

Between Jan. 1984 and March 2001, Song worked at two different units, chip and LCD, of Samsung.  He died in 2011, at age 44, three years after his diagnosis with the cancer.  In 2014, his family filed for workers compensation.

As maintenance engineers, both Lee and Song engaged in etching processes involving arsenic, a well-documented carcinogen.   Additionally, routinely long working hours and daily exposure to other chemicals also cumulatively caused the workers’ cancer, the epidemiological findings indicated.

Parsimonious on Pulmonary Conditions

Despite ample evidence that Samsung’s chip and LCD production processes are limned with chemical exposures, KCOMWEL had cited a lack of evidence and rejected workers comp petitions for workers suffering pulmonary conditions.

This has been true particularly of Samsung’s LCD workers while Song, a LCD line engineer, could receive workers compensation benefits because he spent more than half of his employment at a chip lab.  In December 2015, Lee Jie-hye, aged 29, died of lung cancer after working in a Samsung LCD lab in 2003-2011.  Her workers compensation petition was denied for lack of what KCOMWEL said was “substantial evidence.”

As if in tune with the government’s policy, Samsung’s own limited and divisive compensation scheme does not cover even a single pulmonary condition.   Samsung has no plans to make the change even after KCOMWEL’s decision, according to independent news site Ohmynews.com.

Fourteen Grants and Eight Diseases

As of the latest approval, KCOMEL has granted workers compensation to 14–13 from Samsung and one from SK HYNIX–out of a total of 75 occupational-disease victims assisted by SHARPS.  The service has in effect declared the following eight diseases occupationally caused in the semiconductor industry:

Leukemia

Lymphoma

Aplastic anemia

Breast Cancer

Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy

Brain tumor

Ovarian cancer

Lung cancer

 International Solidarity

Currently, two global petitions drives are under way online, urging Samsung to end worker abuse and compensate victims of its occupational disease cluster.  All visitors of this blog are encouraged to endorse them:

Samsung: End Worker Abuse and Abolish Your “No-Union” Policy Now by the International Trade Union Congress

Samsung: Pay Compensation For The Workers Who Died in Your Factories by SumOfUs

SHARPS’s Sit-in: 300 Days And Still Counting

Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:  1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 2) make a sincere and full apology.

 

 

 

 

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The Aug. 30 ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court against Samsung’s occupational-disease victims is the latest to a series of biased court decisions against labor rights  Source: South Korean Supreme Court English website

South Korea’s highest court has invoked a controversial clause on the work relatedness of disease and upheld a lower- court decision to reject workers compensation claims filed by three workers who had developed or died of a blood disorder after years of chemical exposure at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s chip labs.

Appalling

On Aug. 30, Supreme Court Justice Kim Shin cited a lack of evidence and allowed Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare (KCOMWEL) to reject worker compensation claims filed by three victims of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster—yet another ruling based on a problematic law that requires the victims of occupational disease to prove the work-relatedness of their disease.

“While the plaintiffs [the victims] were very likely exposed to carcinogenic materials,” the ruling read, “there is insufficient evidence that would show such exposure caused their illnesses.”

The highest court did not rectify or even mention the error made by a lower court: the appeals court underestimated the risk of trichloroethylene, a carcinogen designated as the highest Group 1 by the WHO in 2012.  The lower court cited the chemical’s old Group 2 rating to dismiss its causal link with the blood cancer inflicted on two of the three plaintiffs.

The ruling is nothing short of appalling because it came only about twenty days after a high-profile Associated Press expose that Samsung and the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA) have in effect been suppressing even basic information about chemicals used in chip production from workers who fell victim to a variety of blood disorder after working at Samsung chip labs.

Indeed, Samsung and the KCOMWEL, part of the KOSHA, have been procrastinating or frustrating workers compensation proceedings by shifting the burden of work-relatedness proof onto the victims who have meager financial resources to take on a big corporation or the government.

Between 2005 and 2015, SHARPS helped a total of 75 semiconductor and LCD workers (59 Samsung and 16 non-Samsung employees) petition for workers compensation.  As of today, only nine were granted compensation.

The Supreme Court ruling has now exhausted legal recourse for the three petitioners for the government’s support for their occupational-disease plight, while clouding the prospects for the remaining 63 petitioners who have their cases pending at the KCOMWEL or in court because of delays related to work-relatedness proof.

Controversial

The Supreme Court decision was controversial enough to necessitate the Minjoo Party of Korea, the country’s largest opposition party—which usually remains tongue-tied on labor issues—to speak out.  “It is hardly convincing that that the Supreme Court places the burden of proof upon workers,” a Minjoo Party spokesman saidThis was the first time since Oct. 2013 that the Minjoo Party, or its predecessors, has ever commented about Samsung’s occupational disease victims.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the country’s umbrella of independent labor unions, also issued a statement, saying, “The government and Samsung must determine the cause of occupational disease and come up with responsible measures.”

The Supreme Court decision was the latest of a series of biased court rulings against labor rights and basic freedoms in South Korea.  In July 2016, a Seoul court sentenced a KCTU leader to five years in jail for organizing protests and declared, “Only peaceful assemblies can be protected under the concept of freedom of assembly stipulated in the constitution.”

As for Supreme Court Justice Kim, in 2011, before appointed to the Supreme Court bench, as a local judge, he ordered a female welder to pay her shipyard KRW 1 million(U$1,000) in damages for each day of her 309-day sit-in atop a high-rise crane.  The damages came to KRW 280 million (U$ 280,000).  “He [Justice Kim] just wanted to evict me as soon as possible, and I felt so insulted,” Kim Jin-sook, the 51-year-old welder, said in a National Assembly hearing on Justice Kim’s Supreme Court appointment.

On The Three Victims 

Of the three victims who now have no legislative means for public compensation for their plight, two are male:

Hwang Min-woong, born in 1974, died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July 2007.  He worked as an equipment engineer at Samsung’s Giheung plant, where wafers were cleansed and cut, between 1997 and 2005 until he died;

Song Chang-ho, born in 1970, was diagnosed in Sept. 2009 with malignant B cell lymphoma.  He was a plating-process maintenance engineer at the Onyang plant, where chips are packaged and tested, between May 1993 and Dec. 1998; and

Kim Eun-gyung, female, born in 1969, was diagnosed in Jan. 1 with acute myelogenous leukemia.  She was a chip trimmer at the Onyang plant between Jan. 1 and Jan. 1996.   

SHARPS’s Sit-in: 300 Days And Still Counting

Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:  1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 2) make a sincere and full apology.

 

 

Torontostar

On Aug. 16, Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily, ran an AP expose on Samsung on the front page

 

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and the South Korean government have been appearing increasingly perturbed as AP investigative reports  on their collusive efforts to block the release of information critical to workers compensation petitions filed by the tech company’s occupational-disease victims spread worldwide.

AP Reports Ripple Out

On Aug 10, the AP reported that the South Korean government allowed Samsung to cite trade secret concerns to withhold information about on-the-job chemical exposure from at least six workers compensation petitioners who developed various forms of blood order after working at Samsung’s chip or LCD labs.

Separately, the U.S. news agency released a profile of some victims of Samsung’s blood disorder cluster and a video clip summing up the two reports.

The impact of the reports rippled across the world.  On Aug. 10, the Al Jazeera news network dispatched a report derived from the AP accounts. On Aug. 16, Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper by circulation, ran the AP pieces on the front page.

Samsung Grows Unsettled 

On Aug. 12, the AP, prodded by Samsung, ran the following correction:  “The Associated Press reported erroneously that a compensation plan the company offered covers some of the workers’ medical expenses. It covers all their medical expenses.”

The world’s largest tech company was just misleading.  Indeed, Samsung paid medical bills when former employees were successfully granted compensation for their sickness under its limited and divisive compensation scheme.  However, the company now uses its own undisclosed selection criteria for covering these recipients’ post-compensation medical expenses, said Lim Ja-woon, SHARPS’s in-house legal counsel.

Perturbed by the AP reports, Samsung released two separate press statements on Aug. 10 and Aug. 13.

In the Aug. 10 statement, the company said, “even if a supplier cites trade secrets to withhold information, the chemical product provided to Samsung has been certified as not containing any toxic substance.”  Samsung did not just shift the blame to suppliers, but also blurred the fact that some chemicals used in chip production can react to each other to create toxic substances. This is why full disclosure of all chemicals is important.

In the Aug. 13 statement, the company attempted to justify destruction of the entrance logs of one of its cleanrooms, citing a lack of regulatory clarification on such destruction.

The destruction came in 2010, after attempts by the family of Sohn Kyung-joo, a 53-year-old Samsung contractor who died of leukemia a year earlier, to use the logs as evidence of his chemical exposure in his posthumous worker compensation proceedings.

With much information shrouded in secrecy, the daily records of ins and outs of cleanrooms could be major evidence for workers compensation cases.  The logs showed how often and long workers and contractors have stayed in the dirt-free chip labs, according to many accounts, limned with chemical smells.

Government’s Freudian Slip 

On Aug. 12, South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor denied the AP reports that it, at Samsung’s request, withheld the information.  “We designated the information in question as trade secret as defined under law,” said the labor ministry—accidentally admitting that it served Samsung when it should regulate the corporation in the interests of workers safety.

SHARPS’s Sit-in: 300 Days And Still Counting

Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:  1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 2) make a sincere and full apology.

ITUC

In her blog post for The Huffington Post, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow criticized Samsung for worker abuse.

 

The Samsung conglomerate has medieval working conditions behind modern technology, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, summed up in her Huffington Post blog on Aug. 10, as she criticized the world’s largest technology company and its affiliates for poor working conditions.

Moral Compass

“Samsung is a business model that has lost its moral compass, based on exploitation and abuse of human rights at its supply chain,” said Burrow.

She announced that the ITUC has started a petition drive to end no-union policy and worker abuse at Samsung.

Petition Drive

The ITUC, based in Brussel,  is a leading voice of the world’s working people. The confederation represents 176 million workers through its 328 affiliated organizations within 162 countries and territories.

All are invited to sign the petition at http://act.ituc-csi.org/en/samsung

The following is a full text of the ITUC’s petition: 

Samsung: end worker abuse and abolish your “no-union” policy now

Samsung has a reputation for modern technology, but also a history of medieval conditions for the estimated 1,500,000 workers entrenched in a vast and shadowy web of subcontractors and subsidiaries that runs deep throughout the region. What’s more, the Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) reports that Samsung’s “no-union” policy affects the entire Asian electronics industry, “because Samsung Electronics intervenes actively to prevent the formation of unions at its suppliers.”

A leaked PowerPoint presentation — intended for the eyes of corporate bosses only — decrees specific “countermeasures” to be used to “dominate employees.” And the language is shocking. The leaked material instructs managers to: “isolate employees,” “punish leaders,” and “induce internal conflicts.” And that’s just corporate policy. AMRC reports instances of grave abuse, where Samsung “tapped workers’ phones, followed them, and approached their families with threats.”

With a precariously-employed workforce, inhumane conditions are rife. According to China Labor Watch, employees at Samsung factories, some under-aged, suffer through 100 hours of forced overtime per month, unpaid work, standing for 11 to 12 hours, verbal and physical abuse, severe age and gender discrimination, lack of worker safety… During a three-month period while the Samsung Galaxy tablet was being rushed out, one worker testified that she: “slept about two or three hours a night,” and had to stop breastfeeding her three-month-old infant to keep up with schedule.

Samsung is everywhere. If you have a smartphone — an Android or iPhone — there’s a good chance that parts in your phone are produced on factory floors controlled by Samsung and its affiliated companies. Now it’s up to all of us to tell Samsung this must stop now.

SHARPS’s Sit-in: 300 Days And Still Counting

Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:
1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and
2) make a sincere and full apology.

 

 

APCapture

The Associated Press’s Big Story, an in-depth and investigative section, ran two separate stories on Samsung and its occupational-disease victims in eight months’ time.

South Korean authorities have repeatedly complied with Samsung Electronics Co.’s requests and refused to release critical data about chemicals, which could be used to prove the work-relatedness of the illnesses of at least six former Samsung workers who have been seeking workers compensation, the Associated Press on Aug 10 reported in its investigative reporting section, The Big Story.

Guarding Trade Secrets Against Human Life

Both the government and Samsung have cited “trade secrets” for not giving up the information, according to the AP.  “Court documents and interviews with government officials, workers’ lawyers and their families show Samsung often cites the need to protect trade secrets when it asks government officials not to release such data,” said the news agency.

Although South Korea’s law does not allow the government to withhold the release of corporate information critical to individuals’ lives, physical safety and health, the AP pointed out, any such violation does not carry a penalty.

“Government officials openly say corporate interests take priority, that evaluating trade-secrets claims is difficult,” the AP added, “and that they fear being sued for sharing data against a company’s will.”

KOSHA’s Clients

In an interview with the AP, Yang Won-baek, of the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency, used the term “clients” to describe corporations.  Asked by the AP why he used that word, Yang answered he treats the companies that his agency is mandated to regulate “as I treat clients.”   “[T]he companies KOSHA evaluates also review the agency, and the finance ministry considers those reviews when it sets agency budgets,” Yang told the AP.

“Since 2008, 56 workers have applied for occupational safety compensation from the government,” said the AP, citing SHARPS’s data.  “Only 10 have won compensation, most after years of court battles. Half of the other 46 claims were rejected and half remain under review.”

AP’s Big Story

The latest report on Samsung and its occupational-disease victims is a second dispatch in eight months for the AP’s in-depth investigative section.  The first report was released on Dec. 11, 2016.

SHARPS’s Sit-in: 300 Days And Still Counting

Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:
1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and
2) make a sincere and full apology.

image (6)

A daily log of the sit-in written on Aug. 10, 2015 by Hwang Sang-ki, a 61-year-old taxi driver and the father of Yumi, the first publicly known victim of Hwang Yu-mi.  In the log, Hwang, also a SHARPS founder, said, “We make money, work and make semiconductors in order to live. However, Samsung’s Lee Kun-hee and Jae-yong  only make money at any cost–without taking any responsibility or showing any guilt feelings–although [their own] workers have died of cancer.

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As of Aug. 1, 2016, SHARPS has marked the 300th day of a sit-in that the advocacy group began on Oct. 7, 2015, after Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. walked out of negotiations with them and imposed its own rules on occupational-disease victims who, often out of financial and emotional desperation, sought quick compensation from the company.

On July 28, to mark the 300th day milestone, SHARPS activists and Samsung cluster victims held a rally at Samsung D’light, the company’s exhibition space, in south Seoul, where they have erected impromptu shrines for victims and been encamped for nearly a year.

“Our Children Are Now Gone”

Seoul’s humid heat waves, the hottest in two decades, could not diminish the spirits of more than 200 participants rallying with SHARPS.  The rally showed that SHARPS’ advocacy has emerged as the source of inspiration for those who have lost their next-of-kin to corporations that put profits ahead of people and a government that prioritizes corporations over people.

“Our children are now gone,” Jeong Bu-ja, mother of one of the 365 high school students having drowned in a sunken ship MV Sewol in April 2014 because of the government’s bungled rescue efforts, said at the rally.

“However, for our deceased children, the facts must be known in their entirety,” she added, pointing to Samsung’s cover-up of the cluster, and the government’s meddling in independent investigations of the Sewol accident.

Infants and Their Mothers

Choi Ye-yong, director of Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health, spoke at the rally.  His public advocacy is campaigning for about 4,500 victims of a humidifier sterilizer marketed exclusively in South Korea by Oxy-Reckitt Benckiser.  The UK multinational had for over almost a decade concealed the fatal hazards of the disinfectant with the connivance of corrupt government officials and academics.

“As of today, we have recorded 4,500 cases,” said Choi.  “Among them, 780, or 19 percent, died [of pulmonary conditions],” he said. “Most of the deceased are infants under three years old or mothers in their 30s.”

“Samsung Can’t Bring My Health Back”

A cluster victim also spoke.  “Will an apology by Samsung bring back my health? It won’t,” Han Hye-kyung, 38 years old, a former Samsung LCD-line operator, now partially paralyzed after brain tumors, said in a stammering voice. “But Samsung must apologize to prevent additional victims.”

The sit-in will continue, with SHARPS calling for Samsung to:
1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and
2) make a sincere and full apology.