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At a rally on May 14, SHARPS activists and volunteers performed in a skit where Samsung was the puppet master of South Korea’s workers compensation service and media.  Photo credit: Lee Ki-hwa

 

Since its expression two years ago of regret over whom it said of “employees who became ill or dead as a result of what can be suspected of workplace accidents,” Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. has still been maneuvering to shirk responsibility and break its own public promises, said a SHARPS activist.

 

Two Years of Treachery

“We’d better ask whether Samsung has ever made good on a single promise, instead of how many promises it has kept,” said Lim Ja-woon, legal counsel with SHARPS, on May 14, in a rally marking the two-year anniversary of Samsung’s first-ever official apology to the 200-plus victims and their families.

In May 2014 when Samsung CEO Kwon Oh-hyun stood before hundreds of reporters to make the apology, SHARPS was skeptical of the sincerity of Samsung’s regret.  Mr. Kwon did not concede that Samsung’s hazardous working conditions and tough labor control were the cause of the cluster.

 

Regrets, Samsung Had A Few

In his cautiously worded statement, Mr. Kwon lamented Samsung’s lack of empathy, not its negligence of workers safety.

In his own words: “During Samsung’s growth, countless employees dedicated themselves to working hard for the firm.  Along the way, there were people like them who suffered. This is truly regrettable and heartbreaking.  Also, we were sometimes negligent about the pain and hardships they and their families faced.”

 

Broken Promises, Samsung Has Plenty

Over the past two years, Samsung has proved itself to be a corporate rogue who lacks not only in empathy but also in any sense of responsibility.  Mr. Lim, of SHARPS, went on to explain how Samsung has broken its promises, one-by-one:

First, two years ago, Samsung said it would act on proposals via a mediation structure.  In July and September of last year, Samsung walked out of the mediation committee and began to use its own terms and conditions to pay compensation to some victims. Along the way, it incited divisions among cluster victims many of whom are in dire financial need amid mountainous medical bills.

Second, Samsung promised the victims “rightful compensation.”  However, Samsung imposed a ceiling and timeframe on compensation.  The world’s largest technology company demanded its financially strained former employees sign blank papers without explaining the purpose of their signatures.  Many compensation-seekers ended up getting payouts too small to even cover their medical expenses.

And third, Samsung said it would not intervene in workers compensation proceedings for cluster victims.  Prior to Mr. Kwon’s public statement, Samsung had hired an army of corporate lawyers to meddle in administrative lawsuits sought by the victims seeking workers comp.  The lawyers, in various expert capacities on behalf of KCOMWEL, the country’s workers compensation service, often used delaying tactics during the legal tug-of-war, depleting the victims’ already-meagre financial resources.

While Samsung no longer appears to directly intervene in the proceedings, it still sends lawyers to monitor the hearings and collect court records.  Worse, Samsung has to date refused to disclose the comprehensive data of potential and current occupational-disease victims it began to amass in 2010.

 

Samsung’s Broken Promises Kill                

In the past two years when it reneged on its own promises, Samsung was pushing workplace risks down to the lower ladders of the supply chain, denying some cluster victims compensation and leaving workers dead or maimed:

  • In May 2014,Yeom Ho-seok, 34 years old, a repairman with Samsung’s after-sale contractor, committed suicide in protest of harsh working conditions.
  • In December 2015, Lee Ji-hye, aged 29, died of lung cancer. Her death was the sixth in 2015 alone and the 76th of the cluster. Earlier in January, KCOMWEL threw out her petition for lack of evidence as Samsung had entirely updated the chip lab where she had worked.  Ms. Lee could not receive compensation from Samsung because its compensation scheme does not cover pulmonary conditions.
  • In March 2016, five workers at a component supplier were found to be at risk of vision loss after being exposed to gasified methanol.
  • In May 2016, new evidence shows that the blood disorder cluster has likely spread to some parts of the supply chain as a worker of a Samsung contractor petitioned for workers comp after being diagnosed with leukemia.

 

SHARPS’s Sit-in Continues

Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:

1) institute a permanent, independently verifiable safety program;

2) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and

3) make a sincere and full apology.

 

 

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Kwon Jeung-nam, chairman and CEO of Taejung Industries, shows a text message he sent to a Samsung executive, in which he said he could not make an extra payout abruptly imposed on his company by Samsung.  Source: Newstapa (YouTube capture)

 

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. extracted at least KRW $20 billion (U$17 million) from a group of component suppliers in fiscal 2014 to prop up the sagging consumer electronics segment, independent news service Newstapa reported May10, citing a whistleblower.

 

Verbal Request

Two Samsung executives demanded a group of refrigerator and air-conditioner parts suppliers to raise KRW 20 billion for the company in Sept. 2014 when they attended a dinner get-together of the contractors, Kwon Jeung-nam, chairman and CEO of Taejung Industries, the compressor supplier of 28 years for Samsung, told the news cooperative.

There is no paper trail for the request by the two executives, whose identities Newstapa has yet to disclose.  “They [the Samsung executives] have never come to a dinner meeting before,” said Mr. Kwon. “The two executives verbally made the request.”

 

Exceptional Cooperation

However, Samsung’s verbal request is corroborated by a text message the contractors who lead the supplier groupings sent to all members after the dinner, on Sept. 14, 2014.

The carefully worded text message reads:  “We are in a position in which we have to reply by today to the collaborative request made by Samsung.  We, the [Samsung] partners, all are currently in a difficult and tough situation, but we are at the point needing a resolute decision for a new leap for the consumer electronics segment of [Samsung].  I am asking you for exceptional cooperation.”

On the same day the leading contractors, whom Newstapa has yet to identify, texted another message reading:  “Please be advised: the amount assigned to each partner should be paid by year-end.”

 

“Please Be Generous and Forgive Me”

Samsung’s KRW 20 billion request came down to KRW 100 million (U$85,000) for each of about 20 suppliers.  Mr. Kwon refused to pay.  Taejung was on the verge of receivership, after years of Samsung’s unilateral cuts in unit prices of compressors.

In a text message to one of the two executives who attended dinner, Mr. Kwon said:  “We are in the process of getting court approval for receivership… As many matters are examined by court judges, we could not come around a way to cooperate with you on the collaborative request made by Samsung.  There is little room for me to maneuver…  Please be generous and forgive me.”

The executive did not reply, and Samsung severed its 28-year ties with Mr. Kwon’s company in 2015.  Taejung is now in receivership.

 

A Tough Year For Samsung

For Samsung, fiscal 2014 ending Dec. 31 was a tough one.  Galaxy S5, the then-latest addition to its smartphone line, fell behind Apple’s IPhone and was steadily caught up with by Chinese knock-offs.

That year, the tech giant posted a fall in earnings for the first time in three years.  Yearly net profit fell 27 percent to KRW 23.4 trillion (U$21.3 billion) from KRW 30.5 trillion.  The fall could have been bigger if it had not been for a 36 percent rise in semiconductor operating earnings.

Air-conditioners and refrigerators are money-losing laggards of Samsung’s diverse product lines; they are buttressed largely by smartphones and memory chips.  The company masks the losses by categorizing them into the consumer electronics division, side-by-side with popular digital TVs and monitors. 

“The consumer electronics division was under extraordinary pressure because of cumulative losses,” said a former Samsung vendor who, on condition of anonymity, confirmed the attendance by the two executive to the dinner.

 

Fatal Years For Workers

Samsung’s request, in effect extortion, was in breach of contracts and regulations.  It is unclear how Samsung booked these ill-gotten gains in the ledger, casting doubt over its financial integrity.  Also, it has yet to be confirmed whether and how Samsung made similar requests to contractors for other Samsung divisions.

What is clear:  Samsung’s attempts to slash costs and outsource risk by squeezing suppliers are hurting workers there.  In 2013-14, three repairmen who worked separately for Samsung’s after-sale service contractors, died of overwork or committed suicide in protest of harsh working conditions.

Beginning in 2013, dangerous working conditions faced by workers at Samsung’s memory-chip contractors came to light, attracting the notice of activists.

Five workers are now at risk of vision loss, after exposure to high-density gasified methanol at Samsung’s subcontractor, where they cut smartphone clad circuits.  The five victims earned KRW 5,700, or U$4.71, an hour while the employers selected methanol over ethanol, which is more hazardous than but half the price, for its production processes.

New evidence shows that the occupational disease cluster could be spreading from Samsung to a supplier owned by a sibling of its chairman, Lee Kun-hee.

 

On Newstapa

Newstapa, founded in 2012 by a small group of investigative TV journalists who were forcedly dismissed for their demand for editorial independence, files and distributes reports via YouTube and local podcasting platforms.  It is a form of cooperative run by donations.

As sole Korean part of the Panama Papers Project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Newstapa recently unearthed shell companies owned by POSCO, South Korea’s steelmaker, and children of the country’s former military dictators.

 

SHARPS’s Sit-in Continues

Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to: 1) institute a permanent, independently verifiable safety program; 2) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 3) make a sincere and full apology.

Cousins Lee Jae-yong (left) and Cho Yeon-joo (right) are due to inherit Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and Hansol Chemical Co., Ltd. respectively; both companies are infected with a blood-disorder cluster.

 

An employee of Samsung Electronics Co., Lt.’s chemicals supplier has petitioned for workers compensation after being diagnosed with leukemia—yet another sign that Samsung’s cosmetic efforts to improve workers safety, and brazen attempts to deny rightful compensation to victims of its blood-disorder cluster, are backfiring as safety negligence has plagued its supply chain.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

On April 28, the 31-year-old male, identified only by his last name Yi at his request, filed for workers compensation, claiming that he developed acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2016 as a result of long working hours and exposure to hazardous chemicals while working at the chemicals supplier.

Overtime

Between 2012 and 2015, Mr. Yi mixed chemicals unknown to him to make cleaners and moisture-proof insulators at the Wanju plant of Hansol Chemical  Co., Ltd.  for Samsung’s organic light-emitting diode operations in China.

When Mr. Yi worked, chemicals splattered onto his bare skin and eyes.  He often inhaled chemical fumes. Chemical stains on his work suits were strong.  “Although there were ventilation fans at the shop, chemical odors were serious,” Mr. Yi told The Pressian, an independent news site.

Over the two years of employment, he was not given even a single safety training session or an explanation of the chemicals he was told to mix.

All In The Family

Hansol Chemical is no ordinary supplier for Samsung.  It is a unit of Hansol Group, the conglomerate spun off from Samsung Group and given to Lee In-hee, the eldest daughter of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, who died in 1987. Lee In-hee is also a sister to Lee Kun-hee, Samsung’s current chairman, who remains comatose after suffering a heart attack in May 2014.

Father and Daughter; Father and Son

Currently, Hansol Chemical is effectively controlled by Cho Dong-hyeok, the 61-year-old son of Ms. Lee, and his 37-year-old daughter, Cho Yeon-joo.

The daughter was seated on the board of directors in 2014.  Mr. Cho, not seated on the board, retains the title of chairman—a typical way for conglomerate honchos to control their companies without care about fiduciary duty.   Lee Kun-hee and Lee Jae-yong, his son and heir apparent, hold chairman and vice chairman titles respectively, without seats on the board of directors of Samsung. 

Undisclosed

For fiscal 2015, Hansol Chemical posted a 73.7 percent increase in operating income, boosted by sales of chemical components to Samsung, according to a number of local news reports.  The company is not required by law to disclose the volume of such sales because, in legal terms, they are not related-party transactions as Samsung and Hansol split almost three decades ago.

Bounded by Family; United In Bad Behavior

However, its strong family and business ties would mean that Samsung is well-positioned to urge Hansol to improve workers safety.  Samsung would not do that probably because it does not want to.  Rather, bounded by family ties, Samsung and Hansol are abetting each other in neglecting workplace safety.

 400

It has yet to be determined whether his chemical exposure has directly caused the Hansol worker the acute blood disorder.  However, SHARPS has to date profiled about 400 electronics workers diagnosed with leukemia, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis.  Also, Mr. Yi often worked more than 100 hours of overtime.

“Recently, the court ruled that excessive overtime can be cause for such rare conditions as ovarian cancer and brain tumors, said Lim Ja-woon, a lawyer and a full-timer with SHARPS.  “Since Mr. Yi worked 100 hours of overtime almost every month, overtime alone may have caused leukemia.”

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April 22 marked the 200th day of SHARPS’s sit-in amid new evidence that Samsung’s occupational disease cluster appears to be plaguing much of its supply chain.

 

Sit-in Continues

Since Oct. 8, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to: 1) institute a permanent, independently verifiable safety program; 2) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 3) make a sincere and full apology.

 

*On May 1, this post was updated to include a better description of Hansol Chemical Co. Ltd., where the victim allegedly became afflicted with leukemia.

 

South Korea’s administrative court has rejected at least two separate appeals filed for workers’ compensation by victims of Samsung’s blood-disorder cluster by dismissing the causal link between a widely recognized cancer-causing chemical and  two former workers of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., said a researcher in a recent study published in an academic journal.

Group 1 Carcinogen  

The two workers who suffered from leukemia and malignant lymphoma had used trichloroethylene on their jobs at Samsung’s chip labs.  In 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a cancer risk research arm of the World Health Organization, upgraded the carcinogenic-risk level of the chemical to Group 1 from Group 2.

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Prof. Kim Jongyoung, of Kyung Hee University, unearthed the fact that South Korea’s administrative court used outdated information in dismissing the cancer risk of Samsung’s chip labs.

Ill-informed or Negligent

However, after the upgrade by the agency that practically wrote the global rules of cancer risks, the court dismissed the appeals, citing the old risk level, Group 2, Kim Jongyoung, a sociologist with Kyung Hee University in Seoul, in his paper, “The SHARPS Movement And The Political Economy of Workers’ Health” published in the spring 2016 issue of The Economy and Society.  Prof. Kim did not further elaborate whether the court was ill-informed regarding the update or just negligent.

The author identified the two victims only by the English-language initials S and K at their families’ request.  Their appeals being thrown out, the two workers have exhausted legal remedies for workers’ compensation.

“Even Samsung Does Not Deny It” 

Trichloroethylene is such a high-risk carcinogen that even Samsung has questioned the integrity of the rulings, according to Prof. Kim who quoted an anonymous Samsung source as the following:  “Actually, it was S who was exposed to trichloroethylene, and he developed lymphoma.”  The source went on saying: “It is an almost generally accepted fact that trichloroethylene can cause malignant lymphoma.”

“Even Samsung does not deny it,” the source concluded.

Samsung Ignores It

It is probably true that Samsung does not deny the risk of carcinogens used in its chip production.  It is undeniably true that Samsung has been doing little to prevent such risk and pay cluster victims sufficient compensation.  Also, it is undoubtedly true that lax regulatory oversight, coupled with court negligence and media bias, is the enabler of Samsung’s brazenness.

Sit-in Continues

Since Oct. 8, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to: 1) institute a permanent, independently verifiable safety program; 2) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 3) make a sincere and full apology.

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At SHARPS’ sit-in site, a makeshift altar commemorates victims of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster.  Each pair of white rubber sleepers represents a victim.

 

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On March 2, labor activists and trade unionists mounted pickets at the government complex in Seoul, calling for government action against Samsung and LG over methanol poisoning at the electronics makers’ suppliers.  Source: khan.co.kr

Another young worker has been hospitalized for acute methanol poisoning she suffered at a subcontractor of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., the South Korean government confirmed on Feb. 26.  The worker, a woman in her twenties, is the fifth victim of gasified methanol poisoning.  She is now in a coma.

Gasified Methanol

All these victims were temporary workers who became exposed in two months’ time to gasified methanol, residues of which they attempted to remove from the surfaces of mobile-phone components for Samsung and LG Electronics.  All five victims were hired on a short-term basis of two or six months, a banned but widely accepted labor practice in South Korea’s manufacturing sector.  None of them were provided with basic protective gear, such as goggles.

Dodging Oversight     

The latest victim, whose full identity is being withheld from release, was poisoned at a different Samsung contractor than the small factory where the other four workers are now at the same risk of blindness, after doing the same job in the same city, Bucheon, about 25 kilometers south of Seoul.

She worked twelve-hour days and often took one day off a month from a workshop where methanol density was up to 2,220 ppm, about ten times higher than the country’s legal maximum.

What is so shocking is that she was poisoned while the ministry of employment and labor was conducting safety inspections of about 5,900 workplaces nationwide where gasified methanol is in use, following the poisoning of the first four victims.  Her employer hid methanol when an inspection was underway at her workplace.

Coupled with the government’s poor oversight, the fact that all victims are hired on a temporary basis suggests it would be difficult to determine how many workers were exposed to the hazardous material in the city of Bucheon, a cluster of mobile-device parts contractors.

On Feb. 16, the government approved workers compensation for two of the five victims—a rare judgment in favor of temporary workers.

Passing Cost and Risk On To Contractors.

Ruthless attempts by Samsung to pass cost and risk on to its contractors were the catalyst for the tragedies of the four young workers.  Both workplaces are subcontractors of Samsung, which allows contractors to outsource their jobs with little in the way of safety measures.

The world’s largest technology company does not make a single reference to labor practices of its supply lines in its brief code of code of conduct.

From workplace-accident first response to warranty repair, Samsung relies on an army of contractors and subcontractors which brutally cut costs to the point of threatening workers’ livelihood and safety.

The five victims earned KRW 5,700, or U$4.71, an hour while the employers selected methanol over ethanol for its production practices, which is more hazardous than but half the price of ethanol.

baik

At an information session on Feb. 16 called by foreign correspondents in Seoul, Hwang Sang-ki (second from the left) sat two seats away from Samsung spokesman Baik Soo-ha (second from the right) who, at the session, lied about Hwang’s daughter Yumi, a victim of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster.

The world’s largest technology firm by revenue continues to shift the blame to victims of its occupational disease cluster and to play off them one against another, in a move to move the cluster crisis out of public focus.

At a Feb 16th media workshop on the cluster called by the Seoul chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, a spokesman of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. lowered himself to brandishing a photocopy of a journal by a victim as if evidence for Samsung’s safety education for workers.

The journal is belonged to Hwang Yu-mi, a Samsung semiconductor-lab operator who died of leukemia at the age of 21 in 2007.  A hard-working employee, the late Hwang detailed her work experience in the journal, which later her father Hwang Sang-ki, a founder of SHARPS, used to build a case against Samsung.  No parts of her journal indicate that Samsung provided safety education to employees.

Taxi Driver Versus Samsung’s Mouthpiece

When Samsung spokesman Baik Soo-ha flaunted the late Ms. Hwang’s journal to lie blatantly, her father, Mr. Hwang, also a speaker at the workshop, was seated two seats apart from Mr. Baik on the same platform.

The AAJS invited all parties, from Samsung to SHARPS to the Family Settlement Committee, to the event.  Samsung representatives attended it on condition that they would not share the platform with any advocates.  The result:  Mr. Hwang, a taxi driver, and Kim Si-nyeo, a homemaker and mother of a brain tumor-affected Han Hye-Kyoung, had to take on Mr. Baik, a TV journalist-turned Samsung mouthpiece, at a rare information session on Samsung’s cluster joined by tens of international correspondents based in Seoul.

Mean Attack

In this skewed setting, the Samsung spokesman took the offensive, questioning the veracity of the 223 cluster victims SHARPS has to date profiled.  Mr. Baik cited SHARPS has not fully disclosed their identities.

SHARPS does not disclose a victim’s identity unless he/she consents to not only protect his/her privacy and but also shield him/her from Samsung’s attempts at intimidation and buy-offs.

There is ample such evidence.  In 2010, the mother of Park Ji-yeon, a 23-year-old female Samsung employee who died of acute bone cancer, said she withdrew an administrative lawsuit for workers compensation after Samsung promised her to pay her KRW 400 million (U$326 thousand), independent weekly Hankyoreh 21 reported.

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Huh Jae-hyun, of Hankyoreh 21, interviewed the mother of Park Ji-yeon, a 23-year-old female victim of Samsung’s cluster.  The company paid her KRW 400 million as she withdrew a lawsuit for workers compensation.  The news magazine pixelated her face at her request. Source: Hankyoreh 21

Deposited After Cremation 

Ms. Park’s family initially demanded KRW 1 billion (U$816 thousand) but Samsung haggled it down to 40% the request, according to the news weekly.  The company deposited the hush money to the mother’s account after the daughter’s body was cremated.

She used the money to pay off debt that had ballooned to cover Ms. Park’s medical expenses.  “I felt vain after paying debt,” said Ms. Park’s mother, identified only by her last name Hwang (no relation to Hwang Yu-mi).  She went on to explain, “My family was used by Samsung.  Samsung covered up my child’s death.”

Also, in Jan. 2011, a news show of the Korea Broadcasting System aired footage, secretly taken by Hwang Sang-ki, of Samsung managers attempting to give Mr. Hwang what they called consolation money.

How Many Are Dying and Died

Mr. Baik’s questioning of SHARPS’s data is ludicrous, even given his own admission that about 140 victims are now seeking compensation under Samsung’s own compensation scheme.   All these offer a glimpse of the depths of Samsung’s cluster, highlighting the likelihood that the number of victims is higher than SHARPS’s own data.

Then, the real issue: Samsung still attempts to hinder victims and their advocates from collecting data, making it very difficult to assess how many have died, are dying, or will die because of its negligence.

Receipt or Settlement

“A victim who suffers from cancer has medical bills running up to KRW 100 million (U$816 thousand),” said Mr. Hwang at the workshop, citing anonymous sources.  “Samsung demanded the victim sign a settlement of KRW 30 million (U$24 thousand) when he applied for compensation.”

It is also revealed that the company demanded compensation applicants sign a settlement agreement, a copy of which it does not provide them. Nor does it allow the applicants to photograph the document.  When asked why Samsung does not provide a copy of the settlement to the victims, Mr. Baik answered, “The term ‘settlement’ is a misnomer because it is a receipt.”

“You don’t photocopy receipts to give them,” Samsung’s mouthpiece quipped.

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Four workers of Samsung’s supplier are now at risk of vision loss due to exposure to high-density methanol.

An ongoing attempt by Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. to outsource risk to an army of smaller contractors has proven dangerous as four workers are now at risk of losing vision due to exposure to gasified methanol while on the job.

The four workers, all temporary employees in their twenties at a Samsung supplier, suffered irreversible vision impairment after using high-density gasified methanol as coolant while edging aluminum clad circuits for smartphones, according to Solidarity For Workers’ Health, a Seoul-based advocacy group.  The employer did not provide even basic protective gear such as gloves.

Due to legal considerations, the advocate did not disclose the name of the employer, which is a subcontractor of one of Samsung’s army of outsourcers.  Nor did the Ministry of Employment and Labor, which on Feb. 5 said it has suspended the operations of the contractor in the city of Bucheon, about 25 kilometers south of Seoul.

Illegal Outsourcing and Low Wages

Two of the four victims, a man and the only woman, both 29 years old, are now at risk of complete blindness.  A 25-year-old victim has lost vision in the left eye and impaired in the right.  A 20-year-old victim has yet to be fully diagnosed for acute vision loss.

All four victims were employed on a short-term basis of about six months–an outlawed practice increasingly flouted by employers as the government has been stepping up efforts to repeal the ban on short-term outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.

The victims got the jobs through daily laborer agencies and earned about  5,700 won, or U$4.71, an hour,  about a dime higher than the country’s mandated minimum wage of 5,580 won, U$4.61–compared with South Korea’s per capita GDP of U$24,565.

Outsourcing Risk; Shirking Responsibility 

For Samsung, outsourcing is not just about cost rationalization.  Rather, it is more about shirking corporate responsibility by outsourcing risk.

The world’s largest technology company even outsources first response for worksite accidents.  In Jan. 2013 when two separate incidents left one worker dead and four injured at Samsung’s semiconductor plant, it turned out that the company hired an outside first-response firm which in turn outsourced jobs to a smaller contractor.

Samsung outsources maintenance and repair services to a loose network of contractors where working conditions are so harsh that a few workers have committed suicide in protest.  From Brazil, to China, to Korea, Samsung’s supply chain is riddled with abuse and misconduct.

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Samsung uses outsourcing to shirk corporate responsibility. The company even outsources first response for industrial accidents.  In 2013, two separate gas leaks left one worker dead and four injured at its semiconductor lab.

It is not that there is little Samsung can do about outsourcers’ labor practices.  The opposite is true:  the company can exert substantial influence on the way its supply chain functions.  For instance, last year, prodded by the government to help address youth unemployment, Samsung introduced a so-called “stepping stone jobs initiative” under which it will literally farm 3,000 new hires through its contractors after three months of job training for which it will pay.

Samsung has strong sway on the supply chain, for which it has ultimate responsibility.

Samsung Continues To Dodge

SHARPS has been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s headquarters in south Seoul since Oct. 7, 2015.

After eight years of a fierce campaign by the advocacy group, on Jan. 17, Samsung finally made its first meaningful concession and agreed to an “ombudsman system” to make recommendations in the next there years to Samsung regarding worker safety measures.  However, it still refuses to compensate all occupational disease victims fully and transparently.  Worse, the company still rejects an independently verifiable monitoring system.

The South Korean government appears to be an enabler of Samsung’s ongoing negligence.  To date, the Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service has, only after long clerical and court campaigns, approved only four of the 74 petitions filed by victims with help from SHARPS.

In a rare victory for cluster victims, on Jan. 29, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of a petition by Lee Eun-joo, who died of ovarian cancer in 2012 after more than ten years of suffering.  Ms. Lee was diagnosed with the cancer after six years of gluing together silicon wafers with formaldehyde lead at a Samsung lab where she began to work at the age of 17.

leeeunju

In a rare legal victory for Samsung-cluster victims, in January, South Korea’s court ruled in favor of workers compensation for Lee Eun-joo, a former Samsung worker, who died of ovarian cancer in 2012.

Emboldened: Benign or Malignant   

After playing off victims against one another with the lure of quick compensation, Samsung has emerged emboldened and began to turn away some victims who are willingly complying with the company’s confidentiality request to receive token compensation.

gunsan

The gate of Gunsan Girls Commercial High School in the city of Gunsan, where Samsung recruited busloads of graduates in the 1990s. At least four of such recruits have since been diagnosed with some form of cancer.

 

According to Media Today, Samsung turned down a compensation application by Park Soo-youn (pseudonym),  35 years old, citing her brain tumors were not malignant—despite the fact she now suffers from an incurable occulosympathetic palsy as a result of craniotomy.  Ms. Park was among the graduates of Gunsan Girls Commercial High School, from whom Samsung recruited in busloads for chip manufacturing in the 1990s. In 1999, she began to work at the Kiheung plant of Samsung, where she used bare hands to clean machinery and floors with chemicals unknown to her.  In 2001, she saved enough to study music at college.  By 2009, she became completely bedridden for her “benign tumors.”

To add salt to the wounds, a Samsung handler contacted Ms. Lee’s family after rejecting her application to wire 40,000 won, or U$32, as a reimbursement for the expenses.

 

 

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