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Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, 74 years old, is caught on film with prostitutes.  Source: Newstapa

Lee Kun-hee, the second-generation founder and chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., has routinely frequented several prostitutes simultaneously, video clips obtained by independent news cooperative Newstapa revealed on July 21.

Post-pardon Prostitution

Between December 2011 and June 2013, the 74-year-old Samsung patriarch engaged in sexual activity with four or five prostitutes, in their 20s or 30s, on at least five different occasions at two different private residences in Seoul, according to Newstapa.  About a year earlier, in March 2010, Lee reclaimed the chairman position of Samsung after a government pardon of his convictions for tax evasion of about U$39 million.

Assisted by two male accomplices, one of the prostitutes taped the five occasions.  They, in vain, extorted Samsung for hush money.

Lee suffered from a heart attack in May 2014, and has since been in a coma.

Silence

Despite its near-ubiquity, prostitution is outlawed in South Korea. Some of the country’s public would probably shrug off another run-in by Samsung’s Lee.  As if in confirmation of Samsung’s influence on the South Korean press, the Korea Broadcasting System, the country’s equivalent of the UK’s BBC, took down a report of Lee’s transgression from its website on the night of July 21.

As of this reporting, none of the so-called three major newspapers (Chosun, Joongang and Dong A) have run a single story.  Nor has Yonhap News, the country’s publicly chartered news agency.

On July 22 (Korean time), Samsung released a brief statement apologizing for “causing a controversy in connection with Chairman Lee.”

Obscenity 
The conspicuous obscenity and misogyny of his latest criminal misdeed aside, the video clips revealed the long-held pattern of how Lee uses his public companies and those who work for him.

According to Newstapa, one of the two upscale residences Lee used for his sexual escapade is leased under the name of Kim In, Lee’s right-hand man who retired in 2010 as CEO of Samsung SDS, the IT services provider living off related party transactions with Samsung affiliates.

Confronted by Newstapa, neither Kim nor Samsung SDS appeared to be aware of how a security deposit of KRW1.3 billion (U$11.4 million) was paid for the leased house.  Samsung Group remains silent on how the payment was made, adding to concerns that Lee still may arbitrarily use the conglomerate’s funds.

Lee’s disregard for basic human and labor rights was also self-evident.  He appeared to apply the same tough labor discipline even to his illegal sex workers, the recordings revealed.  In one scene, a woman, apparently a go-between, charged a penalty of KRW 500,000 ($440) on KRW 5 million (U$4,400) for each prostitute because they failed to satisfy one of the preferences set by Lee for height, weight, and outfit.

All in all, what Newstapa’s exclusive report implies:  Lee’s fall from grace.  In South Korea, the patriarch was once touted as a visionary leader for turning a me-too brand Samsung into a global tech giant.

After a series of irregularities, Lee has lost public respect.  He is now a subject of public contempt, despised enough to be extorted by petty criminals.

Can Samsung and the founding family turn around the status quo? The answer would depend at least in part on how they will address ongoing occupational disease crisis.

On Newstapa

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

As the 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 D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space 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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NewDaily Biz uses a Samsung-cluster victim’s family conflict to smear the victim and SHARPS.  Source: NewDaily webpage capture

 

NewDaily Biz, the conservative online newspaper notorious for its top executive’s attempts at ingratiation with Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., has recently shown that it would enthusiastically kowtow to the world’s largest company at the expense of the ongoing personal distress of a Samsung-cluster victim and the integrity of SHARPS.

Rescue My Daughter?

On July 15, NewDaily Biz ran an interview with the father of a cluster victim, whom staff writer Choi Jong-hee quoted as crying: “Rescue my daughter held hostage [by SHARPS].”  SHARPS has profiled and been representing the victim (her name is withheld at her request to protect  her privacy), diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008 after working in a Samsung LCD lab in 2003-5.  The victim, now in her late twenties, had severed ties with her father when she was a teenager, before her employment with Samsung, for personal reasons.

At the victim’s request, they do not disclose to her father her whereabouts or other private information while SHARPS activists have, on a number of different occasions, provided consultation and advice to her parents.

Defamation?

The following day, on July 16, Lim Ja-woon, SHARPS’ legal counsel, and Lee Jong-ran, its labor attorney, met with the victim’s father and reporter Choi.  The father said he did not mean to describe his daughter as hostage and was quoted out of context.  Reporter Choi did not counter or object to the father’s claim.

SHARPS demanded Choi to take down the article.  Instead of giving a direct answer, in an email he sent to SHARPS’s Lim, the reporter said he recorded all defamatory remarks made against him during the meeting as he felt insulted.

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NewDaily Biz reporter Choi Jong-hee   Source: Newdaily Biz website

Samsung’s Hostage                        

It is well known that the newspaper’s editorial leadership and management remain subservient to Samsung, which controls about 14.4 percent of South Korea’s advertisement with annual spending of KRW 2.8 trillion (U$2.5 billion).

On April 18, 2014, NewsDaily Biz Representative Director and Editor-in-Chief Park Jung-kyu took down a review of Another Promise, a crowd-funded feature film based on the story of a SHARPS founder and the father of the first known cluster victim, Hwang Sang-ki.

In a text message to a Samsung PR executive, Park said he learned that the executive was upset by the article on the movie and went on saying, “I immediately found out about what happened and immediately had it removed under my watch.”  After using the word “immediately” twice in a sentence, the top editor went on saying. “There was no particular intention, as it was written by a columnist.”

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NewDaily Biz Representative Director Park Jung-kyu  Source: Naver.com capture

He concluded the text, expressing “deep and deep” gratitude.  Park remains Representative Director while his publication and reporters appear to be held hostage by Samsung.

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) 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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Thanks to fellow human-rights activists who filled in for them at the on-going sit-in, SHARPS could recently take a two-day retreat to a beach town near to Sokcho, the hometown of Hwang Sang-ki, a founder of SHARPS and the father of Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of Samsung’s occupational-disease cluster.

Over the past three days, several South Korean pro-business publications finally broke their long silence on SHARPS’s ongoing 280-day-plus sit-in-but only to slander it, while at the same time, continuing to embellishing the public image of Lee Jae-yong, the heir apparent of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and other affiliates.

On July 13, at least three newspapers ran similarly worded reports, criticizing some victims of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster and SHARPS advocates for taking a two-day-and-one-night retreat to a beach town over the weekend.

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, calling for the world’s largest technology firm to resume dialogue with the advocate group and cluster victims over a publicly verifiable safety measure and transparent and fair reparations.

The articles smeared SHARPS and its supporters for going on a retreat together on July 8-9 when members of Human Rights Fund, the non-profit human rights advocacy group led by Park Lae-goon, one the country’s most respected human rights campaigners, filled in for them at the sit-in.

Protest for Protest’s Sake?

“While crying for the desperation of the occupational disease issue, SHARPS took vacations and left the sit-in to others,” Munhwa Il Bo said on July 13.  “According to some opinions, SHARPS are professional protestors who protest for protest’s sake, regardless of their demand.” the newspaper concluded, cowardly wrapping its own opinion-or Samsung’s—in “some opinions.”   On the same day of its release, the article was featured on the front page of Samsung’s Intranet.

On July 14, Financial News, another business publication, went further in saying: “the desperation of the sit-in has vanished and it has become business as usual.”

“They [SHARPS] said their sit-in entered into 279 days as of July 11,” Seoul Economic Daily said on July 12. “They still count the two days of vacations into it.”

The three newspapers all painted SHARPS’s attempts to engage supporters in the sit-in as something akin to hiring substitute protesters.  Both Munhwa Il Bo and Financial News quoted an anonymous Samsung source who said, “It is highly likely that SHARPS’s sit-in is in breach of law.”   None have sought comment from SHARPS.

Solidarity

“These journalists do not understand the concept of solidarity” Lim Ja-woon, legal counsel with SHARPS, told Media Today, the media watchdog, commenting on the reports. “Samsung shows antipathy when there is somebody [to turn to] with its cluster victims.”

Lim warned Samsung against its attempts to drive a wedge between cluster victims and their advocates, saying, “The recent slander by these newspapers bears similarity to Samsung’s attempts to limit the scope of the cluster issue only to the victims’.”

Lee Jae-yong: Boy Meets World?   

In South Korea, Samsung controls the lion’s share in the print ad market.  In the past six years, as if in a show of force, Samsung has been placing front-page ads in the New Year issues of more than 20 national dailies.

While much of the country’s mainstream media remains silent or often sullies Samsung-cluster victims and SHARPS, it is actively engaged in boosting Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s 48-year-old heir apparent whose only known business record to date is a bankrupt Internet company.

On July 15, a number of South Korean dailies ran a picture of Lee and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty taken at Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, an exclusive media finance conference also known as “Summer Camp For Billionaires.”

Samsung probably believes that a picture of Lee with a female global business leader can help further groom Lee’s image as what local media call him: the Royal Prince of Samsung.  However, what really unites Rometty and Lee is their recent attempts to appease investor doubts about their competence with increased dividends or frequent stock buybacks.

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Lee Jae-yong, the heir-apparent of Samsung, walks with Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM during Sun Valley Conference.  What’s common between Lee and Rometty is investor skepticism about their competence. Source: Internet image capture

 

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Jin Nam-jin, a 45-year-old Samsung contractor-repairman, fell to his death on June 24 while attempting to fix an air-conditioner from three stories up.  His smartphone is flooded with text messages from his supervisor, urging him to work harder and faster.

A Samsung contractor-repairman has fallen to death while he attempted to fix an air-conditioner from three stories up, adding to a rising death toll of repairpersons who, hired on a contract basis by Samsung’s outsourcing network, committed suicide, died of overwork, or was killed on the job.

Intestinal Rupture

The repairman, Jin Nam-jin, 45 years old, fell to the ground from the third floor of a Seoul multi-housing unit on the afternoon of June 23 when the handrail of the terrace on which he was leaning collapsed.  Jin was taken to a local hospital where, late in the evening, he was pronounced dead of intestinal rupture.

He did not have any protective gear.  Jin could not call in a ladder vehicle because he had little time to keep up with his schedule.

“There was no protective gear,” a union representative of Samsung Electronics Services, a Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd unit and Jin’s contractor, told independent daily Hankyoreh.  “It takes about two hours for a ladder vehicle to arrive at the site.  It would be very difficult for him to use the vehicle because it is too expensive and time-consuming as he is paid on a piecework basis.”

The vehicles became available about three years ago when some of Samsung Electronics Services’ contract repair personnel formed a union, but it is not easy for non-union members like Jin to use them because of time and financial constraints, said the union representative.

Tough Time Management

Samsung Electronics Services owns only nine of its 107 repair branches.  The remaining 98 are contractors who hire the most of Samsung’s about 6,000-strong repair staff mainly on a piecework basis.  Samsung’s after-sale network imposes unusually tough time-management rules on the contractors.

Deluge Of Text Messages
The company exerts tight control on the repair personnel with an incessant exchange of text messages and frequently urging to exceed daily quotas.  Indeed, text messages flooded Jin’s smartphone as he attempted to fix an air conditioner, leaning against the handrail drenched and weakened by the rain a day before.

“Incomplete assignments: 110.  This number must be under 60 by cutoff time,” a text message sent by his Samsung Electronics Services  supervisor at 1:44pm read although the cutoff time is 6:00pm.

“You are not doing one thing right—five minutes ahead of a total shit show,” another message said at 2:19pm, about 41 minutes before his fatal fall.  “You are second from the bottom [in regard to job performance].  I am being scolded, too,” a last message was sent at 3:33pm.

Come Rain Or Shine

On June 24, a day after Jin died, at 9:43am, his co-workers received a new message urging them to work outdoors on air conditioners: “Don’t postpone air conditioner repairs till tomorrow just because it is raining.”

 

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One day after Jin’s death, a Samsung supervisor texted  the deceased contractor’s co-workers, urging them to fix air conditioners outdoors despite the rain.

 

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) 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.

image (2).jpg

Hwang Sang-ki, a founder of SHARPS and the father of Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of Samsung’s leukemia cluster, celebrated his 61st birthday on June 21, 2016, under a rain-drenched canopy at SHARPS’s sit-in.  SHARPS will continue to monitor Samsung’s Ombudsman committee and to campaign until the company re-initiate dialogue.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. June 8 launched an Ombudsman Committee on Leukemia of Samsung, (Ombudsman), an external monitoring structure agreed to by SHARPS in January 2016.

Three Years

The ombudsman currently seats labor law professor of Seoul National University Lee Cheol-soo, and two medical professors.  Earlier, the nomination of Prof. Lee as chair was approved by Samsung and SHARPS. The committee will hire outside expertise to examine semiconductor lines over the course of three years.

The ombudsman will release a report based on that analysis.  Setting apart from the conventional concept of “ombudsman,” the non-permanent committee is merely an investigative body, and Samsung is not required to act on the committee’s findings.

Not an End

Following the announcement of the ombudsman by Samsung, all major newspapers reiterated what amounted to Samsung’s official position—with the ombudsman, the world’s largest technology company put an end to the leukemia crisis that has hounded it in the past nine years.

“In effect, the ombudsman will solve only one-third of the crisis,” said Citizens’ League for a Democratic Press, a Seoul-based media watchdog, in a daily commentary criticizing these news reports.  “This is because Samsung still is at odds with the victims and their families over how it makes reparations and official apologies.”

“The substantial issue lies with the fact that Samsung did not comply with an arbitration process and began in July last year to unilaterally pay some victims compensation,” the non-profit watchdog added.

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) 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.

The following an excerpt of the press statement released by SHARPS on June 9, 2016 on the ombudsman:

The Ombudsman Committee Should Focus on Independence, Impartiality and Public Accountability.  Samsung Must Comply Thoroughly With The Agreement.

On June 8, Samsung Electronics announced the formation of an Ombudsman Committee (Ombudsman).  It said it has named law prof. Lee Chol-soo of Seoul National University to chair the committee and appointed two other members, Lim Hyun-sul, public health professor at Dongguk University, and Kim Hyunwook, environmental engineering professor at Catholic University.  The committee would form five subcommittees with a total of ten experts.

We, SHARPS, have been calling for transparency for the safety and health management of Samsung since 2007 and have been expecting the committee to form for about five months since Jan. 12, 2015 when SHARPS, Samsung and the Family Settlement Committee agreed to preventive measures on industrial accidents and an Ombudsman.  It was a long time in coming, but we expect solid activity.  Especially, we hope the Ombudsman respects the agreement framework of preventive measures and act on them earnestly.

The goal of the agreement framework is to build an internal system for a sound and healthy work environment as stipulated in Clause 1 of the framework.  “An independent, publicly accountable outside body tasked with detecting improvement points in work culture and devising a variety of ways to address improvement” is the Ombudsman Committee.  In sum, the committee is responsible for exercising leadership in building a safe work environment to protect workers’ wellness at Samsung to

In this respect, it is important for the Ombudsman to be independent of Samsung.  One mistake or one issue can render all our efforts futile.  In forming the Industrial Health Examination Committee at SK Hynix, Prof. Jang Jae-yeon, of Ajou University, declared that the committee must ensure transparency and impartiality to earn trust.  He said he has populated the committee with those who can be trusted among workers and who are too antagonistic for the company to approve.  SK Hynix promised it would ensure full independence for the committee, and the majority of the committee members would not tolerate any interference by the company.  This way, he strongly expressed his wiliness for independence.  Samsung’s Ombudsman should win thorough independence.

In addition, impartiality is one matter and prevention of intervention or pressure from company is another.  In the announcement, committee chair Lee put emphasis on impartiality, expertise, and fairness to highlight the importance scientific diagnosis and objective assessment.  However, the Ombudsman’s dependence on information provided by Samsung would likely limit its objectivity and impartiality.  To substantially reduce the dispute over impartiality, the committee should collect and reflect a variety of experience, data, and opinions from those who are in opposition to Samsung.  Whether the Ombudsman stays unaffected by Samsung’s influence and pressure will depend on how sincerely it will collect and ruminate the shop floor experience of workers and the serious opinions of outside experts and civil-society organizations.

The Ombudsman, as defined in the agreement framework as an independent, publicly accountable outside body, should focus on the importance of public accountability.  Independence and impartiality are its operational principles while public accountability constitutes the raison d’etre for the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman is not a body limited to seeking answers for such basic questions as “Is there any evidence that Samsung uses carcinogens?” or “Should leukemia be an occupational disease?”  It is the body to improve public healthcare at Samsung in order to achieve such public value as workers’ rights to health and life.  The committee should not only prevent the repeat of the occupational disease cluster, which pained so many workers and their families, but also improve Samsung’s poor corporate culture and the safety of the supply line, which flouted the basics of chemical management and resulted in the fatal gas leak in 2013 and the methanol poisoning in 2016.  We hope the Ombudsman achieves public accountability by improving Samsung’s inward culture that insists on high confidentiality on the life and health of the people working at its plants.

Since 2007, we have been taking issue with Samsung’s occupational disease cluster and could finally win the agreement framework centering on the Ombudsman.  We will seek to play our own role in keeping the committee independent and impartial to completely achieve public accountability.

In addition to the agreement framework, Samsung’s offering of a sincere apology and reparations for the victims are the other issues that have been stalled for ten months since August 2015 when Samsung unilaterally put negotiations on hold.  SHARPS’s sit-in, which has since been initiated, now lasts more than 250 days.  Addressing the issues of reparation and apology through dialogue with SHARPS is the solution to the past issues of public safety.  Samsung should turn into a socially responsible corporation by responding in good faith to these two remaining issues.

The Ombudsman also should put more efforts into ensuring transparency and bettering communicating with society to disseminate its own findings unfiltered by Samsung.

Correction:  The earlier version of the post incorrectly stated that SHARPS has approved the nomination of two members of the ombudsman committee.  SHARPS only approved the appointment of Prof. Lee Cheol-soo as chair.  

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The portrait of Park Hyo-soon posted on the shrine at SHARPS’ sit-in site.  On June 1, KCOMWEL decided to posthumously grant her workers compensation.

In an unprecedented ruling, Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (KCOMWEL) on June 1 cited malignant lymphoma as an occupational disease and granted workers compensation to Park Hyo-soon, a former Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. employee who died of the blood disorder four years ago.

 

Posthumous Grant  

KCOMWEL’s posthumous grant broke the old decision-making pattern, in which it often rejected workers Samsung occupational disease victims’ petitions for lack of evidence.  The service granted the benefits to Ms. Park’s family although Samsung did not provide data related to her working conditions, according to SHARPS.

However, it took almost four years for KCOMWEL to reach the decision, the advocacy group added.

 

A Model Student

Ms. Park shared the same traits of about 200 Samsung workers profiled by SHARPS as suffering from blood disorder.  She was born and raised in a poor family in Hwasun, South Jeolla Province.

She was such a popular and well-behaving student that she earned model behavior recognition at high school.

In 2002, Ms. Park got a job as chip-line operator at Samsung, a few months before graduating high school.

She was diagnosed with terminal-stage lymphoma in 2010, about four years after she quitted the job at Samsung, citing skin disorder.  She died in 2012.  Ms. Park was 28 years old.

 

The following is an excerpt of the press announcement released on KCOMWEL’s decision by SHARPS on June 3, 2016 (all brackets [ ] are added by the translator):

 

  1. Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (KCOMWEL) on June 1 decided to grant workers compensation to the late Park Hyo-soon, aged 28 years, citing that non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or malignant lymphoma, constitutes an occupational disease as she could have developed it as a result of exposure to benzene or other materials.

 

  1. KCOMWEL’s decision is significant because for the first time it declared malignant lymphoma an occupational disease. As of the decision, the service has approved a total of 11 workers of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and its LCD unit as victims of such industrial diseases as leukemia, aplastic anemia, breast cancer, brain tumors, ovary cancer and, now, malignant lymphoma. (Just as with leukemia, malignant lymphoma is a group of blood cell tumors developed from lymphatic cells as a result of exposure to benzene, ionizing radiation, etc.)

 

  1. KCOMWEL’s decision is of meaning because it was not a passive one, nor based entirely on data and responses submitted by the employer.

 

During the inquiry, Samsung said the victim had not been verifiably exposed to hazardous material while on the job.  However, KCOMWEL’s investigating arm, the Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute (OSHRI), after onsite investigations, concluded that the victim was exposed to carcinogenic materials, pointing to the fact that data submitted by Samsung still redact chemicals as trade secrets and that there was no chemical detector in place when the victim worked at the company.  This likely showed an improvement from the hitherto investigative practice which depended entirely upon data provided by the company which often refuses to disclose key working-condition information, citing irrelevancy.

 

  1. However, the decision was a long time in coming. It took three years and eight months since the petition filed by Ms. Park’s family in Oct. 2012. This is a serious problem because KCOMWEL clearly violated Clause 1 of the Act on Industrial Accidents and Workers Compensation, which codifies the principle of prompt and fair compensation.

 

As early as in 2008, an epidemiologic survey by OSHRI found that females employed in semiconductor production have a “significant probability” of developing malignant lymphoma compared with general population.  Since 2011, the administrative court, on three different occasions, ruled in favor of leukemia, a hematopoietic disorder similar to malignant lymphoma, as an occupational disease for workers employed in the Giheung plant of Samsung.  It baffles us to understand why it has taken such a long time to approve workers compensation for a similar disorder inflicted on other workers employed at the same plant.  The Ministry of Employment and Labor must analyze the reasons for such delay and improve complex and slow workers compensation proceedings.

 

  1. The late Ms. Park began to work at the Giheung plant in April 2002, a few months ahead of graduation of a vocational high school in Hwasun, South Jeolla province. She has since worked as operator at photolithographic lines for three years and seven months, exposed to a variety of hazardous materials.  She also frequently switched between day and night shifts, disrupting her formative biorhythms.  In January 2006, she resigned from the job, after suffering erythema.  In Nov. 2010, Ms. Kim was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma.  She was only 26 years old.  On Aug. 19, 2012, she died, aged 28 years.

 

As of June 2016, SHARPS has profiled a total of 223 former workers of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd and Samsung LCD Co., who said that they developed a variety of blood disorder.  Among the 224, 76 have died.  How much longer would Samsung say it has no responsibility for this ongoing disaster? How much longer does it believe it can continue to cover up its [hazardous] working conditions?

 

  1. As of June 3, SHARPS marked the 221th day of its sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space in south Seoul. The sit-in will continue as Samsung keeps on shirking responsibility and evading dialogue.  Even with 11 former employees on workers compensation benefits for [similar types of blood disorder], the world’s largest technology company has never admitted to responsibility.

 

SHARPS, June 3, 2016

Correction: The earlier version of this press release incorrectly reported that SHARPS has profiled 224 former workers of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and Samsung LCD Co as suffering from a variety of blood disorder and that among them 77 have died.   

 

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Five workers at Samsung’s subcontractors are now at risk of vision loss. Twelve hours a day, without protective goggles, they removed methanol residues from smartphone clad circuits churned out from  computerized cutting machines.  Photo credit: Minbyun

Neither Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, nor the South Korean government, has taken meaningful action since February 2016 when gasified methanol put five workers at risk of vision loss at the company’s two subcontractors, YN Tech and VN Tech, in the city of Bucheon, The Voice Of The People, the country’s independent news website reported May 26.

 

Samsung Looks The Other Way

In the past four months, Samsung has not even issued a short press statement on the five victims.

The world’s largest technology company did not just outsource high-risk jobs—it looked the other way when these jobs were outsourced again to smaller contractors who depend almost entirely on temporary hires.  Although widely flouted, it is against the law in South Korea to hire people in manufacturing positions on a temporary basis.

There is little evidence that Samsung has reconsidered this illegal labor practice even after press reports on the five victims.

The government has not begun a criminal investigation into the exposure—despite the fact that the Samsung contractors, while violating the law, inflicted irreversible physical harm on the workers.

 

12 Hours A Day, $4.71 An Hour

The victims–one woman and four men in their 20s–landed the jobs through temporary-job recruiters.  Although they worked at two separate subcontractors, the victims shared similar work patterns and hours.

They worked twelve hours a day, rotating night and day shifts every two weeks.  In a country with per-capital GDP of $26,000, the five victims earned KRW 5,700, or U$4.71, an hour while the employers selected methanol over ethanol, which is more hazardous but one-third the price.

They used air-guns to remove methanol residues on smartphone clad circuits.  The splattering residue assailed their eyes. The only protective gear given to them was a pair of cotton gloves and a cotton mask.  Ventilation was poor.  No explanation was given on the dangers of methanol.  According to the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Administration, methanol density was up to 2,220 ppm, about ten times higher than the country’s legal limit, in six areas of YN Tech.

 

Samsung Evades Lawsuit

In April 2106, activist lawyers group Minbyun, also known as Lawyers For a Democratic Society, filed a damages lawsuit on behalf of three of the five victims against their temp agencies, the two Samsung subcontractors YN Tech and VN Tech, and the government.  The lawyers and victims have yet to finalize the amount of the damages.

Samsung is not named in the lawsuit because under current law, an employer is not technically liable for the jobs that are subcontracted out after being outsourced.

 

The UN Intervenes?

A team of investors from the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, part of the UN High Commissioner For Human Rights, is now investigating the methanol exposure, reported the Voice of The People, and will have a press conference in early June.

 

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.

 

*** Update at 10:40 pm EST: This post was revised for better clarity (all changes are in italics). 

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