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.