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The Financial Times: “No leniency for Lee Jae-yong”   Source: website capture

 

Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd vice chairman now under arrest on bribery charges, must be punished to the full extent of the law if convicted, The Financial Times insisted in a February 19 editorial.

“Many in South Korea will be tempted to show him leniency,” one of the world’s most read business dailies warned. “This would be a mistake.”

“If Mr. Lee is found guilty then he must be punished to the full extent of the law,” the FT concluded.

Five Charges

On Feb. 16, special prosecutors tapped to investigate South Korean president Park Geun-hye’s influence-peddling scandal won court approval for the arrest of Lee, the 48-year old scion of the world’s largest technology firm, on five counts ranging from bribery to embezzlement to perjury to international capital flight.

On Jan. 19, the court had turned down an earlier request, citing concerns about “the residential conditions” of Lee’s detention.  The court’s widely ridiculed concerns underscored the malicious influence Samsung can exert even on judiciary integrity in South Korea.

The charges against Lee revolve on about KRW 43 billion ($37 million) in bribes and gifts he paid Choi Soon-sil, President Park’s shamanic confidante to curry political favors.  Among them were the National Pension Service’s vote in favor of a controversial merger in 2015 between two Samsung affiliates that cemented Lee’s control of Samsung Electronics.  The merger cost the fund KRW 346.8 billion ($302 million), even according to the NPS’s own estimates. 

If convicted, Lee could be sentenced to five years to life in prison.

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Sharing shamanic advice?  President Park and Samsung vice chairman Lee chatted at an economic conference in 2016.  Source: Presidential Office

 

Jay Y  Fails at Management.       

The arrest marked a fracture in the fledgling leadership of Lee, also known as Jay Y. Lee internationally.  Attempts by Samsung to burnish his career have repeatedly backfired.

In 2000, tens of Samsung affiliates used related-party transactions and direct investment to prop up Lee’s first venture, e-Samsung.  A year later, the online business went bankrupt, and the affiliates shouldered all losses.

In late 2016, after a botched global recall, Samsung discontinued production of Galaxy 7, the fire-prone smartphone promoted by Samsung as “Jae Yong phone” to highlight the scion’s heavy involvement with the device’s development.  The Galaxy fiasco dented Samsung’s reputation especially in the U.S., where most combustible phones were reported.

Jay Y  Fails in Ethics

Despite his shortcomings as business leader, Lee ascended to the helm of a corporate behemoth with $210 billion in market value through two decades of complex, oft-illicit,  stock schemes that began in 1996 with his $6 million purchase of convertible bonds of the then-de facto holding company of the Samsung conglomerate.

However, what is so pernicious about the latest accusations against Samsung is that Lee, among the country’s wealthiest citizens, used ordinary folks’ pension funds to bolster his control of a publicly traded company.

Joy and Anger

Samsung cluster victims and SHARPS activists responded to Lee’s arrest with a mix of joy and anger.  They were glad because for the first time in its 79-year history, and after 79 cluster-caused deaths, Samsung has appeared no longer to be above the law.  They remain angry.  Lee, who has never met with any cluster victims or their advocates, ingratiated himself with the president’s psychic alter-ego to pillage the retirement piggy bank of working people.

Rice cake

To celebrate Lee’s incarceration, SHARPS activists handed out rice cakes at a candlelight rally on Feb. 18, which drew some 800 thousand protesters calling for an immediate ouster of President Park and the arrest of other business honchos named in her corruption scheme.

A National Assembly hearing for SHARPS and Samsung is scheduled for Feb. 28.

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To celebrate Lee’s incarceration, SHARPS handed out rice cakes at the mass rally against President Park in Seoul on Feb. 18.

 

SHARPS’s Sit-in Continues 

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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SHARPS’s contingent at the Feb. 18 candlelight rally

 

 

 

 

 

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After five years of legal battle, a former Samsung employee, Kim Mi-seon won a ruling in favor of her workers compensation claims.  Her handwritten sign reads:  “Samsung must apologize, sufficiently compensate its victims and have [safety] measures in place.”

An appellate panel of Seoul’s administrative court has ruled a former Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. worker’s multiple sclerosis was caused by a combination of overwork and chemical exposure at the company’s LCD unit: the first-of-its-kind reversal of several earlier decisions that denied Samsung cluster victims workers compensation.

3.5 in 100,000

In the ruling on Feb 10, the court said the Korea Workers Compensation and Welfare Service should pay medical expenses for Kim Mi-seon, a 37-year-old former Samsung woman worker suffering from multiple sclerosis.

The condition is so rare that only 3.5 in every 100,000 Koreans fall victim to it.

Kim was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000 when she turned 20—after about three years of cleaning and soldering LCD and OLED panels 12 hours a day at Samsung Electronics’ LCD line, now part of Samsung Display Co., Ltd.  In 2013, she filed an administrative lawsuit against KCOMEL after the agency rejected her petition for workers compensation.

“[Over the period] she was exposed to acetone and organic solvents,” the ruling read.  “Kim, then under 20 of age, worked frequent night shifts in an enclosed space, which factored in her condition by limiting UV exposure.”

Four Patients

The ruling established the work relatedness of Kim’s multiple sclerosis by citing the facts that there are four confirmed cases of multiple sclerosis among former Samsung employees and that there were no other factors than her working conditions that could cause Kim’s condition.

Kim is the first victim from Samsung’s LCD unit to have successfully claimed workers compensation.  In 2012-2014, KCOMWEL or the court and turned down the claims filed by three Samsung LCD workers who contracted multiple sclerosis.

During the four years of legal procrastination, Kim’s health imploded substantially, to the point of near-complete vision loss and severe sciatica.  She is now bed-ridden.

One Out of 13  

It was Samsung, with the connivance of the government, that created a series of procedural delays.  “Samsung and its suppliers repeatedly defied court requests to provide chemical data used in LCD production,” said Lim Ja-woon, the attorney with SHARPS who represented Kim.

Since May 2013, Samsun has complied with only one out of the 13 separate disclosure requests–four of them for one supplier over the same material–filed by Lim with the court.

Samsung Fuels Presidential Malfeasance

Over the past four months, SHARPS emerged as a strong contingent in the weekly candlelight protests that have been lighting up central Seoul by drawing a total of more than 10 million protesters.  They have been calling for an immediate ouster of President Park Geun-hye and the arrest of Samsung’s heir apparent Lee Jae-yong for, among many other things, their collusion in an influence-peddling scheme.   

 

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SHARPS is an important contingent in ongoing mass protests against political corruption.

 

SHARPS’s Sit-in Continues 

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.

On Feb. 4, SHARPS seated a new statue of Semiconductor Girl, the symbol of Samsung cluster victims, at their sit-in.  Setting apart from the smaller and innocent-looking old one, the new statue bears an image of a girl in a white dirt-free suit with a piercing stare and folded arms.   

 Semiconductor Girl: Before and After

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kim Ki-cheol who died on Jan. 14 of acute myeloid leukemia is the 79th victim of Samsung’s occupational-disease cluster.

Two Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. contract workers have died of occupationally caused diseases since Dec. 2016, when Samsung’s heir apparent Lee Jae-yong’s business acumen and integrity were called into question by his involvement with a brewing influence-peddling scandal and a botched massive recall of a self-combustible Galaxy 7 smartphone.

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Kim Ki-cheol, a 31-year-old worker hired through a contractor, died on Jan. 14, four years after his diagnosis with acute myeloid leukemia.  Kim became the 79th occupational-disease cluster victim, and the 32nd victim of leukemia profiled by SHARPS.

Employed by Clean Factomation as a maintenance engineer for Samsung’s wafer lines in the city of Hwaseong in 2006, Kim had since been exposed to a variety of carcinogens such as ionizing radiation, benzene, and formaldehyde.  About six years later, in 2012, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

In 2014, KCOMWEL cited “low hazardous chemical exposure” and denied Kim workers compensation—despite the fact that a special inspection by the government a year earlier turned up 2,004 safety violations at Samsung’s Hwaseong plant.  Kim and his family brought an administrative lawsuit against Samsung and the government.  The legal tit-for-tat has since further drained Kim and his family financially and emotionally.  By 2015, Kim was left with little option but to take a meagre payout made though Samsung’s opaque compensation scheme.

#78

Earlier, on Dec. 8, another contract worker died of peripheral T-cell lymphoma. The 52-year-old, identified at his family request only by his last name Hwang, began work in November 2011 at the same Hwaseong plant where Kim allegedly contracted leukemia, through Hanyang ENG which subcontracted Hwang’s job to its own subsidiary to further slash costs.

In the next two years, he connected chemical containers with pipes or cleaned them at the plant’s chemical supply system.  It was also where, in Feb. 2013, two separate hydrofluoric acid gas leaks killed one worker and injured four.  The company provided him with gloves and masks as only protective gear and never explained about the chemicals he was told to treat.

As of this writing, a ruling on Hwang’s petition for workers compensation is still pending.  He is not eligible even for Samsung’s compensation scheme, which only covers workers employed before Jan. 2011.

Hwang was among the so-called IMF refugees, which refer to the large numbers of male workers who could not find stable employment since 1997, when the International Monetary Fund bailed out the South Korean economy with $60 billion.

Shift in Death Toll

The two recent deaths underscore a shift in the pattern of deaths and a likelihood that the toll may continue to rise.

To date, the majority of the deceased are young female full-time workers who worked directly at chip lines between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s.  As automation has expanded, more and more middle-aged casual male workers have begun to fall victim to a variety of blood disorders after being exposed to hazardous chemicals while maintaining the facilities.

Preconstruction Death

The rising occupationally caused death toll at Samsung factories itself is just infuriating.  However, workers have been killed at the construction site in the city of Pyongtaek, where Samsung has been building a $14 billion semiconductor fabrication plant, the world’s most expensive, since May 15, 2016.

Seven months into construction, two construction workers died on the job, only nine days apart.  On Nov. 29, 2016, Jo, a 46-year-old welder, died of asphyxiation after inhaling argon while welding underground pipelines.  On Dec. 7, Kang, a 44-year-old duct worker, fell to his death from 69 meters high.

Jo and Kang, identified only by their last names, were contract workers hired through multi-layered outsourcers by the Samsung conglomerate’s affiliates, Samsung Engineering and Samsung C&T.

Samsung has demanded the two affiliates complete construction by year-end in 2017, about three months ahead of schedule.  Workers have since had to work from predawn till dusk in bitter cold weather, according to the Korean Construction Workers Union, which surveyed the site.  There were few facilities where workers could rest or eat, the union added.

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Workers take a rest in cold weather outside the construction site of Samsung’s new semiconductor plant.

Incompetent, Insensible and Ignominious

The Pyongtaek plant is a pet project of Samsung’s heir apparent, Jae-yong, also known as Jay Lee outside the country, who apparently attempts to prove his competence with the project that costs about Ireland’s yearly budget.

Now, all he did to aggrandize himself is undoing itself.

In the past three years since he effectively took the helm of the company from his incapacitated father,  Lee Kun-hee, Jae-yong only showed incompetence as business leader and insensibility as employer.

In the period, he has not even mention once the ongoing, fatal occupational disease cluster existing in his factories.

Galaxy 7, Samsung’s smartphone, also dubbed as “Jae-yong phone” in South Korea for his heavy-handed involvement, turned out to be self-combustible.  Samsung had to pull the plug on the Galaxy 7 after a massive, but still failed, recall.

Jay now stands a good chance of landing in a detention cell as it is now unearthed that he bribed a shamanic confidante of President Park Geun-hye, now faced with impeachment, to pressure the National Pension Fund to approve a controversial merger, at the cost of the fund’s own bottom line, pave the way for him to solidify his control of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.

As of this writing a court decision on an arrest warrant for Lee is still pending.

SHARPS’s Sit-in Continues 

 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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SHARPS activists hold their daily teach-in at Samsung’s headquarters where they have been staging a sit-in since Oct. 2015.

Contingent to Candlelight Rallies

SHARPS has been sending a contingent to weekly candlelight rallies in central Seoul, which have drawn a total of more than 10 million protesters in the past three months.  They have been calling for President Park’s resignation and the arrest of Samsung’s Lee and other corporate honchos involved in her corruption scandal.

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SHARPS activists carry Lee Jae-yong in effigy during a weekly nationwide candlelight rally.

Motherly Love for Jae-yong?

On Jan. 14, tens of members of Mommies’ Troop, the far-right female group allegedly funded by the Federation of Korean Industries,  a big-business lobby, marched toward SHARPS’ sit-in, yelling,  “Let’s Protect Lee Jae-yong.”  The mommies, mostly in their late 40s to 50s, ripped SHARPS’s banners and left the site after the police showed up.

*  On Jan. 18, at 5am, a Seoul court refused to issue an arrest warrant for Lee Jae-yong.

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On Jan. 14, far-right activists attempted to raid SHARPS’s sit-in and destroyed its  banners.

 

 

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As more than 200 thousand protestors swept through all major South Korean cities last week calling for the resignation of the country’s president Park Geun-hye for her ties to a cult-worshiping confidante, the Samsung conglomerate began to emerge at the center of that political maelstrom.

 The Cult Controls President Park

The protesters poured into the streets after the revelations ten days ago that President Park had been seeking psychic and political advice from Choi Soon-sil, a female friend of 40 years with shamanic leanings, who lacked security clearance.

Choi, now being held in government detention while being investigated, reportedly inherited her psychic abilities from her father, Choi Tae-min, the cult leader, about whom U.S. ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow said in 2007:  “Rumors are rife that the late pastor [Choi Tae-min] had complete control over [President] Park’s body and soul during her formative years.”  The cult leader died in 1994.

While she secretly advised President Park, 64 years old, on a variety of presidential matters from defense policy to the contents of speeches, Choi, 60 years old, funneled funds from corporations to her foundations in return for influence on government policy.  Samsung gave her non-profit shell corporations a total of KRW 20.4 billion (U$178 million), the largest among the corporate donations Choi has to date collected, according to press reports.

Samsung is Behind Choi

Samsung did not just stop there.  Since Sept. 2015, the conglomerate wired a total of KRW 3.5 billion (U$30 million) to Choi and her daughter Chung Yoo-ra, a 21-year-old equestrian dressage athlete currently training in Germany.  Samsung also committed KRW 18.6 billion to a project laid out by the Korea Equestrian Federation to bring Chung to the Olympics in 2020, according to multiple local reports.

In addition, Samsung every month wired 800,000 euros (U$883,000) to Chung and Choi and gave a $1 million horse to the daughter as a gift.

In that period, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. president, external affairs, Park Sang-jin, flanked by the company’s legal counsel, visited Choi in Germany.  Through her German corporation, Samsung donated  22 million euros (U$24 million) to equestrian facilities in the German province of Essen, the Seoul Broadcasting System reported on Nov. 6, quoting Robert Kuypers, managing director of the province’s equestrian association.

Consultation On Labor?

Choi described Samsung’s donations as pay for her influence on the South Korean government’s R&D support and labor policies, the SBS quoted Kuypers as saying.

Samsung in effect paid Choi when it was in desperate need of government favors.  Before and after that period, Samsung could sell low-margin defense units to the Hanwha Group, which also needed a government favor. Its chairman, Kim Seung-yon was released from jail in 2014, after a waiver of the jail terms.

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According to SBS reports, Samsung’s president Park Sang-jin visited Choi in Germany last year, and Samsung paid her German corporation 22 million euros in what she said were consultation fees.  Photo: YouTube capture

In July 2016, the National Pension Service voted for a controversial merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries, paving the way at the cost of its own bottom line for the conglomerate’s hereditary managerial succession.

Most of all, in Oct. 2016, Samsung almost abruptly walked out of negotiations with SHARPS after months of delays and failure to reply.

On Nov. 8 morning, Seoul time, as this posting goes online, the South Korean government is executing a search warrant on Samsung’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul as part of investigations into Choi’s influence-peddling.

Outcries               

“It is deplorable.  Samsung, on one hand, attempted to silence occupational-disease victims with a few of tens of thousands of won [several tens of thousands of dollars],” SHARPS said in a statement on Nov. 3. “On the other hand, it spent tens of millions on Choi and Chung.”

“We are witnessing to how Samsung is trading in the tears and blood of hundreds of workers,” it added. “[Vice Chairman] Lee Jae-yong must be arrested and sent to jail.”

On Nov. 5, Hwang Sang-ki, a SHARPS founder and the father of Hwang Yu-mi, the first known victim of Samsung’s cluster, took to the podium at the anti-Park rally in central Seoul and spoke before 200,000-plus protesters.  “Nine years have passed since [my daughter died].” Hwang said.  “The only change has been the number of the dead.  Seventy-six died out of the 224 [profiled by SHARPS].

“So many victims and their families are now living below the poverty line, battling impoverishment and disease,” he went on saying. “How can we understand how Samsung is bribing Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil with billions?”

“They are unforgivable,” Hwang said.

SHARPS’ Sit-in Continues

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.

Last week, they winterized their canopy.

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The winterized canopy at SHARPS’s sit-in site.

*The post was updated on Nov. 7 (EST) to better describe why Samsung donated 22 million euros to equestrian facilities in Germany.

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SHARPS and the Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. occupational-disease victims it advocates for have marked the one-year anniversary of their sit-in at the company’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul, with a demand:  Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s heir apparent, must begin a new dialogue with the advocacy group and cluster victims, or resign.

“Samsung Has Killed This Many”

On Oct. 7 evening, despite chilling rain and wind, close to 200 labor activists, trade unionists, human-rights advocates, and ordinary citizens rallied at Samsung’s 40-story glass tower.  They reaffirmed the resoluteness in their nine-year-plus campaign to bring justice and fair and transparent compensation to the workers who fell victim to blood disorders or pulmonary diseases while working at the company’s chip and LCD plants.

Earlier that day, attired in white “clean suits”, the work uniformed used by the victims, the rally-goers mounted a flash mob at the headquarters and inside the subway station leading to it.  They yelled, “Samsung has killed this many people or more!”

Squatters at Samsung’s Heart

About a year ago, on Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS activists began to pitch a canopy and squat at the gate of Samsung Delight, the company’s so-called global exhibition space, after the world’s largest technology abruptly ended negotiations and unilaterally compensated some victims who decided, often out of their financial desperation, agreed to its confidential terms in return for token payouts.

Samsung has since been dodging other promises made to cluster victims and their advocates.  In Jan. 2016, an outside ombudsman committee was formed to monitor Samsung’s implementation of safety measures.  Little information has since been available about the committee’s activities.

There is little sign that Samsung has improved workers safety at its plants or suppliers.  In Oct. 2016, an independent inquiry by Solidarity for Workers’ Health, a Seoul-based workers safety watchdog, turned up two more workers of Samsung’s suppliers who suffered impaired vision due to methanol use on the job, bringing a total number of such victims up to seven.

Solidarity At Home

Over the year, as SHARPS endured a bitterly cold winter and the hottest summer on record keeping the country’s biggest industrial disaster in the public eye, solidary began to pour in.

All through the year, a security guard at a neighboring building donated his own breakfast and lunch boxes to the protesters.

An impromptu shrine, erected by SHARPS for the victims, has become ablaze with tens of flower beds and posters written in many different languages by international visitors and foreign passers-by.

Each evening, SHARPS has been hosting “talk relays” in which guest-speakers talk about a wide range of topics from workers safety to global peace. The transcripts are now published by a publishing co-op in a 400-page book titled Now, Samsung Must Answer.

Global Solidarity

The recent rise in global solidarity not only boosts SHARPS’s confidence but also helps widen the scope of its campaign globally.

At the rally, SHARPS announced a global petition drive urging Mr. Lee, set to be voted to the board of director on Oct. 27, to renew talks with the advocacy group or get removed as executive.  Before public release, the petition was endorsed by international groups.

Among them was the International Trade Union Confederation, a network of 168 million workers in 156 countries. On Oct. 7, jointly with IndustrialAll, the ITUC released a report, Samsung –Modern Tech, Medieval Condition lambasting the South Korean conglomerate for its no-union policy and routine worker abuse.

“Beginning with Samsung, we have begun to expose corporate greed and the failure of the world’s biggest corporations to account for abuse in their supply chains,”  ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said, commenting on the report.

“Your work in Korea stands tall both in defense of the working people and against corporate greed,” Ms. Burrow said in a recorded video message for SHARPS’s rally, “particularly that of Samsung and the government who refuses put workers first to protect their rights.”

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ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow:  “Beginning with Samsung, we have begun to expose corporate greed.”

Separately, the ITUC has launched a solidarity petition with Labourstart, an international solidarity network for labor rights, calling on the South Korean government to release imprisoned unionists and respect fundamental rights.

To sign SHARPS’ petition, please click here

Lee Jae-yong:  Failure To Launch

SHARPS’s international petition, together with growing pressure from rights groups across the world, has come at a critical moment for Mr. Lee’s Samsung.

On Oct. 11, the company said it would pull its latest smartphone, the fire-prone Galaxy 7 Note off the market permanently –only 54 days after its much-hyped release.

Galaxy 7 Note was Mr. Lee’s own ambitious project, the momentum of which he wanted to use to pave the way for his formal inheritance of the Samsung conglomerate from his father Lee Kun-hee, who remains incapacitated since a 2014 heart attack.  It was an important opportunity for the son to boost his scant resume blotted largely with a failed Internet venture. 

Samsung skipped the serial model number 6 and named the latest model Galaxy 7, releasing it at least one month ahead of schedule.  On Aug. 25, about five days into the release, some handsets reportedly caught fire or exploded.  On Sept. 1, Samsung issued a recall of 2.5 million handsets, blaming defective batteries made at Samsung SDI, its own affiliate and the producer of 65% of the pre-recall batteries, which recently slashed 35 percent of the workforce.

However, the recall was doomed to fail.  With SDI no longer available, Samsung had to produce replacement handsets at 35 percent of battery production capacity.  Nevertheless, the company produced 1 million handsets during the first week of the recall.

There was no way for Samsung to manage such a massive recall in such a short period of time without undermining quality or safety.  Soon, replacement handsets began to catch fire, leading to the company pulling the Galaxy 7 Note off the market entirely.

As usual, Samsung could push its workers only so fast and so hard.  And that drive began to backfire.

The Galaxy 7 fiasco revealed Mr. Lee’s incompetence as business leader and Samsung’s ruthlessness as employer.

Start Anew: Dialogue or Else

However, for Mr. Lee, his election to the board is an opportunity to start anew.  He should not waste the opportunity to break from the past by showing a new commitment as a stakeholder steward and a corporate citizen.

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It’s time for Lee Jae-yong to start a new dialogue with SHARPS.

This why SHARPS and its supporters are petitioning him to reinitiate dialogue. There is nothing new about their demand.. The victims and their advocates are calling on Samsung to renew the commitment to dialogue, on which it reneged by unilaterally walking out of negotiations in 2015.

This is the minimum commitment for Mr. Lee to make.  If he does not comply with the petition, SHARPS and its supporters worldwide will step up with a call for his removal as executive of the Samsung conglomerate.

For Samsung stakeholders at home and abroad, there will be little reason to keep the management of the world’s largest technology company in the hands of a scion of the founding family when he fails to prove his managerial competence or to show a commitment to good business ethics.

Please click here and sign SHARPS’ petition urging Samsung to reinitiate dialogue.

 

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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 to 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 to 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.