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On May 7, SHARPS and the Minjoo Party agreed to a policy framework regarding Samsung’s occupational-disease cluster.

SHARPS and the party of South Korea’s Presidential frontrunner have agreed to a policy framework aimed at resolving the occupational disease cluster of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.—one of the most critical milestones in ten years of advocacy campaigning for more than 200 former Samsung employees contracted with a variety of blood disorders.

Four-Point Framework

On May 7, SHARPS and the Minjoo Party of Korea agreed to a four-point framework that incorporates SHARPS’s longstanding demands.  The following are the four points:

  1. The Minjoo Party empathizes with SHARPS for taking issue with Samsung’s own compensation scheme and will put efforts into having negotiations resumed between Samsung and SHARPS so to seek a rightful solution to the issue of Samsung’s occupational disease.

  2. The Minjoo Party will put efforts into improving statutes that strengthen civil and criminal penalties for corporations for serious and/or frequent industrial accidents for employers for covering up such accidents.

  3. The Minjoo Party will put efforts into preventing the outsourcing of risk by strengthening penalties for safety and public-health violations along the supply chain.

  4. The Minjoo Party will put efforts into developing a transparent disclosure process for hazardous chemicals to better hold employers accountable and to ensure employees’ right to know for exposure to industrial safety risks.

Ten Years

The agreement is of significant meaning.  It is the first of its kind that SHARPS has reached with a major political party.  In 2014, a small left-leaning Justice Party, in vain, attempted to mediate a deal for SHARPS with Samsung.

Moon Jae-in, Minjoo’s Presidential candidate, will likely be elected President in a snap election scheduled for May 9.  In recent years, SHARPS has been a favorite campaign destination for many Presidential hopefuls.  However, Moon is the first-ever major Presidential candidate that has signed a pledge with SHARPS regarding Samsung.

“It’s been ten years since I first met with Hwang Sang-ki, the father of the first known Samsung victim, Hwang Yu-mi,” said lawmaker Woo Won-shik, who signed the agreement on the party’s behalf.  “Moon has expressed his strong willingness to help SHARPS and Samsung resume dialogue.”

Hwang replied: “The new government must implement this agreement in good faith.”

“Samsung must promise sincere dialogue, a truthful apology, and comprehensive compensation,” Hwang concluded, reiterating SHARPS’s demands.

Turns and Twists

The would-be ruling party’s posturing toward Samsung and SHARPS has to date been erratic at most. Since 2013 the Minjoo Party, and its predecessor, released only one statement on SHARPS or Samsung’s cluster.

In 2016, the Minjoo Party recruited Yang Hyang-ja, Samsung’s 50-year-old woman executive, as a “female role model ”

Yang is something of a legend among many young women in South Korea as she has climbed up the corporate ladder at a male-dominated Samsung to a PhD, and  a job as R&D director from high-school graduate office secretary.

In March 2017, Yang was forced by a flurry of public criticism to make a public apology, after she, in a luncheon with reporters, branded SHARPS “professional protesters” and the independent Korean Confederation of Trade Unions labor aristocrats.

Non-binding

In all fairness, on March 13, Moon apologized to SHARPS for Yang’s remarks at a mass rally in Seoul, calling on all presidential candidates to pledge to improve public and workplace safety.

The agreement is non-binding—SHARPS would likely find little reason to let up on the pressure on Samsung, the government or elected officials.

MoonandHan.jpg

Moon Jae-in, Minjoo’s presidential candidate, met with Han Hye-kyung, a Samsung cluster victim at a mass rally in central Seoul on March 13.  Source:  Pressian.com

Repeat Tragedy

SHARPS’s latest political breakthrough came on the heels of yet another fatal accident at a Samsung plant.  On May 1, six workers were killed and more than 20 were injured when a mobile crane crashed into and felled a fixed crane at the shipyard of Samsung Heavy Industries Co. Ltd in Geoje, Korea.

All six fatalities were temporary workers.  The cause of the crash is still under investigation although eyewitnesses said the mobile crane operator, a regular employee, missed the signal by a temporary worker.

Repeat Negligence

Samsung bungled first-response efforts, according to an expose by independent news site The Voice of the People.  The company did not bring in government paramedics during the first hour of the accident, during which its own first responders failed to stop the hemorrhaging of a victim who eventually died.

Samsung Heavy Industries’ negligence is just a repeat of Samsung Electrics’ botched response to fatal gas leaks at its semiconductor lab about four years ago.

In January 2013,  Samsung used outsourced first-response teams to stem two separate leaks of Hydrofluoric acid at the chip lab in Hwaseong, Korea, which left one worker dead and four injured.

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.

sNU

On March 12, student journalists of Daehak Shinmun published an extra to protest press censorship at Seoul National University.

A student newsweekly at one of South Korea’s most prestigious colleges has left blank the front page of its latest issue, after a report critical about Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. was censored by the college.

Blank Front Page

Daehak Shinmun, of Seoul National University, on March 12 published an extra with a blank front page, after its supervising professor censored an article about SHARPS’s advocacy campaigning for Samsung’s occupational-disease victims. 

Daehak Shinmun is the official student press funded entirely by Seoul National University, the country’s finest, where future elites go to school.  SNU was also a hotbed of student activism against political authoritarianism in the 1960s-1980s when students often protested the police over unwarranted seizure and censorship of the newspaper.

Labor Bias?

However, in the newspaper’s 65-year history, it was unprecedented for student journalists to raise their own funds to publish an extra in protest against the university’s own censorship.  According to Daehak Shinmun, in January, the newspaper’s faculty advisor, Prof. Leem Kyung-hoon, of political science and international relations, expunged a report about SHARPS, citing its bias in favor of Samsung-cluster victims.  Prof. Leem, whose PhD dissertation was about labor solidarity in Russia, rejected a proposal by student editors to expand the report to include Samsung’s view.

On March 8, 2017, he resigned from the supervisory position, but Daehak Shinmun journalists have yet to win the repeal of that professor’s seat on the editorial board.

LEEm

In Jan. 2017, Leem Kyung-hoon censored an article about SHARPS because he believed it was biased in favor of labor.  He earned a Ph.D from the University of Chicago in 1996, with a dissertation on labor solidarity and militancy in post-communist Russia.  Source: SNU website

Samsung and SNU   

It was not the first time that SNU students came to loggerheads with the administration over Samsung.  In January 2013, the university’s sociology department rescinded the appointment as visiting scholar of Hwang Chang-gyu, former semiconductor chief of Samsung, after fifteen days of strident protests by students and SHARPS supporters.  During his stint as president of semiconductors in 2004-2008, a cluster of blood disorders took hold at Samsung.

Hwang, a PhD in electronic engineering, had no grounding in sociology.  Nevertheless, the faculty said in a statement announcing the rescission: “Interpreting Dr. Hwang’s hiring as a move to desert labor and side with capital cannot rescue sociology from the 20th-century paradigm.”

SNU, Inc.

“Although there is nothing unusual about Samsung’s meddling in the press,” SHARPS said in a statement on March 13, “we are saddened and angered by the fact that such a thing is now happening to the college press.”

SNU student journalists’ protests came at a time when their university is declining in public accountability.  Incorporated in 2011, SNU is no longer a public institution.  The university now runs in the red and needs corporate funding.

On March 14, 2017, SNU mobilized hundreds of security guards to evict students who had been staging a sit-in for 153 days from the main building.  The eviction turned violent when the guards used fire hoses to shoot the protesters with blasts of high-pressure water.  The students were protesting the university’s plan to build a new campus, which will include upscale retirement homes and a five-star hotel.

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.

March 5, 2017 marked ten years since the death of Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s blood disorder cluster.  In 2007, Yu-mi died in the backseat of his father’s cab on her way home from what became her last hospital visit.  She was only 23 years old.  It was two years after her diagnosis with acute myelogenous leukemia and three years and a half after her employment with a semiconductor line at Samsung.

Her death, and Samsung’s denial of wrongdoing , led to her father Hwang Sang-ki and his advocates forming SHARPS in 2007.

To date, SHARPS has profiled 370 occupational-disease cases.  Of them, 79 former Samsung employees are now deceased, and only 14 cases won approval for workers compensation.

Meanwhile, Samsung has successfully been resisting outside efforts to enforce independent monitoring, even as its all-powerful PR machine spread an unsubstantiated impression that the world’s largest technology firm has made strides in improving workers safety.

On March 4, 2017, South Korea’s independent daily, the Hankyoreh, ran an exclusive interview with a woman  who worked in the past six years in Samsung’s semiconductor lab, where Yu-mi contracted leukemia.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the 25-year-old revealed an appalling picture of Samsung’s ongoing negligence in workers safety.  The following is a full translation of her interview which can be found at here.   All brackets [ ] are added.

 

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On March 3-6, SHARPS held a series of rallies, pickets and teach-ins to mark 10 years since the death of Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of Samsung’s occupational-disease cluster. 

Kim Su-mi (pseudonym), 25 years old, resigned in April 2016 from the Giheung semiconductor complex of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., where she had worked since 2010.  This was due to fears for what could happen to her if she continued to work there.  On Feb. 28, this reporter understood conditions at Samsung’s chip labs, based on an interview with Kim.

 That Damn Smell

For five years and eight months since Aug. 2010, Kim was an operator at the Giheung plant.  All operators of a total of 100 assigned to Line 5 were women.  They were divided into four teams, working from 6am-2pm; 2pm-10pm; 10pm-6am; and 10pm-6am, on a six-day revolving shift with two days’ break.

At work, after donning clean suits, the operators put containers in and out of machines. Each container holds 25 wafers.  Wafers are crystalline silicon used to fabricate integrated circuits.  They used microscopes to examine defective wafers and called engineers on errors.  They often ran [between lines], instead of waking.  It was a simple job., but some operators were too busy to take bathroom breaks.  Within a 50-minute break for lunch, they had to change suits to have meals at a cafeteria, which was five minutes away by foot.  In effect, the lunch break was 20 minutes or so, which is so short that they often had to skip lunch.  “Senior co-workers, who are still in contact with me, still rarely eat lunch.  They binge-eat after-hours,” Kim said.  Working hours were generally in compliance with eight hours a day, with infrequent overtime.

“When [“the machine’s] doors opened, the smells wafted out—something like a blend of dark chocolate and gasoline.  To avoid it as much as possible, I pulled container like this,” said Kim, turning her face away as far as she could while pushing and pulling her hands together.

“They are not airtight containers.  Each wafer stood in an open container.  Wafers are grazed chemically.  The smells continued to flare as I carried them—so did they when I had to pull out wafers to check IDs.”

Photoresist deposing, or photolithography, involved a so-called PR solution, developer, acetone and thinner.  The PR solution is an amalgam of four to five chemicals.  Benzene is known to be among them.  In 2009 , an investigation, to determine the work-relatedness of Hwang Yumi’s death, by the Research Affairs of Seoul National University of Samsung labs turned up benzene.  However, Samsung denied the finding.

“The company alleged that all chemicals are consumed within the facility” said Lim Ja-woon, SHARPS’s lawyer, who accompanied Kim, “and that workers face only marginal exposure because each production point has exhaust and emission controls.”  Lim added, “what Kim said belies what Samsung alleges.”  The facility’s door should be locked until the smells are exhausted, however it has been suspected that the controls were loosened because it would take long for chemicals to be dissipate completely.  “Allegedly, the so-called interlocks were deliberately loosened because it would be too difficult to meet production quotas if they waited for the smells to be exhausted completely,” Lim said.

Menstrual Irregularity

Four months into working at Samsung, Kim felt there was something wrong with her body: irregular periods.  She had one period in two months at first and then in three months.  Her menstruation grew increasingly irregular.

A doctor diagnosed Kim with polycystic ovary syndrome.  The hormonal disorder was caused by her irregular periods, the doctor said, “it is not serious enough to be treated but needs observation.” COCP was prescribed to Kim.  She recovered, only temporarily.  An anxious Kim ask her co-workers about their health.

“Nine out of ten suffered from menstrual irregularity.  But all were hushed about it,” said Kim.  “It was a moot point as to whether this was caused by night-shift work or chemicals.  But that was it.  Nobody wanted to step forward.”

Leave On Your Own

There was an accident, too.  In the spring of 2011, Kim, still a new employee, evacuated from her line. It was when the strongest odor of her employment of five years and eight months took hold.  Extremely odorous orange gas wafted the line.  The gas got thicker and thicker.  Engineers could not determine the cause. The operators, on their own discretion, began to pull out.

“All left on their own because the company did not give any direction or instructions,” said Kim.  “When operators acted restively, there was little option for team leaders but to say, ‘get out now anyway; a PA announcement [for pullout] will follow soon.’”

Fresh Cut Lawn Smell

A PA announcement came, only after the odor dissipated and they returned to work.  “The company said it was from fresh-cut lawn.  That smell seeped into the factory.  It was chemical smokes and odors by anyone’s reckoning,” she said.  “This company… This not what it should be, I came to thought.”

Apart from the company’s announcement of “lawn smells,” Kim did not see any further explanations or measures from the company, she recalled.  “According to the report by Seoul National University in 2009, there was a log record showing that operators were not ordered to evacuate despite high-density gas leaks,” SHARPS’ Lim said.  “that accident in 2011 looked the same.”

From Photolithography to Photochemical Etching

As of July 5, 2013, line 5 went offline.  Lines can come and go, depending on technology.  Line 5 operators were reassigned to other lines.  Kim was transferred to Line 8, where she was responsible for photochemically etching circuits on wafers.

“I expected things could get better after the transfer, but there were few changes.  The equipment, which they said was the latest, still generated odors.  I had to inhale the nauseating smells every day,” Kim said.

Kim declined in health.  Her menstrual cramps grew worse, to the point that she lived off Tylenol.

Evacuation was frequent at Line 8.  In three years, there were six to eight instances.  When there was a likely leak, engineers came in to determine the cause, not taking any additional measure.  They were just told to stand by.  They began to evacuate when the smell became too severe to be disregarded.  No evacuation orders were issued.  They gathered in a corner, complaining about headaches, but not daring to leave sooner than others.  Engineers often took off their protective masks and sniffed about to find a leak.

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act gives a worker the right to refuse work,” said Lim.  “At a unionized workplace, an occupational safety and health committee, seated by a union representative, decides whether to restart work when there is a safety risk.”

“Anyway, in this case, the company should be responsible for the evacuation and return of employees,” SHARPS’ counsel continued: “It was just irrational to have them return to work just because odors dissipated.  They should have found a leak and ensured safety.”

Kim remembered that safety education was lax and conducted exclusively online once a month.  They clicked their way through education on screens installed through their shop floor.  After sixty clicks, “complete” showed up on-screen.  It was “useless education.” There was only one legitimate education program when she was employed and when she resigned.  Workers were required to attend a short five-minute discussion before regular monthly meetings and shift changes.   When women operators asked about the roles of various alert systems in the workplace, they were countered: “This is an area for engineers. Do women employees really need to know?”

“What was the most absurd was what happened after Samsung’s admission of wrongdoing (in Many 2014, Samsung vice chairman and CEO Kwon Oh-hyun made an official apology to occupational-disease victims).  There were many outside inspections.  The unit leaders told us to answer we received [safety] education when asked during an inspection.  We were told to stay after-hours to memorize answering tips and English acronyms for ethanol and so on.”

“Did they ever mention the fact that your workplace is where work-related diseases took hold,” asked Lim.  “Not once during the five years and eight months of my employment there,” Kim answered, saying.  “I can surely say this.”

“About half of [SHARPS’] 14 approved workers comp cases stemmed from photochemical etching jobs,” said Lim: “The occupationally caused fatal diseases in that part of the workplace means it’s a site of serious occupational accidents. They should have sufficiently warned the workers there of the risk because they worked at a more dangerous place in the factory.”

Failing Health

In 2015, five years into her job with Samsung, Kim went in for a comprehensive physical at a general hospital.  Some of her blood measurements were low enough to necessitate her taking exams regularly.  A test turned up a lump on the breasts.  She needed an additional test, which she found too expensive to take.  “My heath got definitely better after quitting the job,” Kim said.  “It was the job that has worsened my health.”  Her co-workers still work there despite their deteriorating health because they do not have alternatives, Kim added.

Over the five years and eight months of her employment with Samsung in Aug. 2010 through April 2016, Samsung’s representative director, Kwon made the apology (May 2014): the company initiated its own compensation scheme (September 2015); and it laid out measures to prevent the recurrence of an occupational disease cluster.

“It sometimes occurred to me that a disease can be hiding inside me,” said Kim.  “I should have resigned after a year.  All still work there because there is no other option.  It is hard for them to earn that kind of wage, and this is their first job after graduating high school.”

Over the period, Kim and her co-workers felt little changed.  The only noticeable change: when Kwon made the apology, Kim’s team leader wrote down a list of the diseases her team members suffered.  They did know who would be informed of the list or what measures were taken because of that survey.  One thing she could notice was they were since fitted with thinner masks.

No Manuals

“Little has changed,” said Paek Do-myung, the occupational medicine professor, of Seoul National University, who led the investigation of Samsung factory in 2009.  “A normal workplace would determine the cause of the accident, notify workers of it, and closely watch the situation before restarting operations.”

“They need a manual that clearly codifies the roles of workers, managers, and safety officer,” Paek said.  “They did not have one in 2009—Nor does it appear they have one now.”

“The issue is essentially simple,” Roh Sangchul, occupational medicine professor at Dankook University, said.  “The way Samsung accesses the issue is secretive.”

“Samsung has an occupational health institute in-house, where there are experts,” Roh said.  “Right or wrong, it will be hard for them to be impartial.  They should be open to outside expertise.”

Last year Samsung agreed with SHARPS and the Family Committee to new safety measures including a third-party ombudsman committee.  “If implemented a little bit, it will pry open a small hole for the first time to observe Samsung’s reclusive occupational and health measure from an independent perspective,” SHARPS opined then.

However, to date, the Ombudsman Committee has accomplished nothing.

“We opened doors to outside experts through the Ombudsman Committee which is now conducting a comprehensive review of [safety programs].  We are waiting for their findings.”  a Samsung spokesperson said.  “While the issue of occupational disease at semiconductor lines is not clearly substantiated anywhere in the world.”  The spokesperson went on emphasizing: “This is more about how it is perceived.  We need to try to see the issue objectively.”

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.

fell

A worker writhed on the ground after being assaulted by security workers at the Samsung Display factory in Vietnam.  Source:  YouTube capture

Thousands of workers milled around the gate of the construction site of a Samsung Display Co., Ltd factory in Vietnam, scuttling with private security forces and smashing security facilities, after security guards threw a worker to the ground, according to multiple press reports from South Korea and Vietnam.

While the information is sketchy as of this posting, the press reports commonly said as follow: On Feb. 28 afternoon, massive scuffles broke out between Vietnamese workers and South Korean security guards in Yen Phong, Bac Ninh, about one hour drive from Hanoi, after security guards knocked down a Vietnamese worker, rendering him unconscious.

Beating After Long Queue

The victim was among about 5,000-6,000 workers who had to wait in long queues to return to work after lunch as security guards were checking individual IDs due to fingerprint-reader malfunctions.

Soon, about 2,000 enraged workers rioted and pushed aside security guards.  About 100 police officers were brought to the scene to de-escalate the situation.  The police dispersed the crowd, after reinforcements from other districts, said Dient Dan Dan Tri Vietnam, a local news site.

A YouTube clip shows a worker writhing on the ground next to a fingerprint reader–embedded turnstile.

samsung-police_vmrx

Police were brought from several districts to disperse the crowd.  Source: Vnexpress

Casualties: Official vs. Unofficial

It will take some time for a complete picture of the strife to emerge from a powerful multinational operating in an incomplete democracy.  Samsung C&T, the contractor for Samsung Display Co., Ltd. said there were no critical injuries, while remaining mum on property damage.

image-1488277626-samsung

Vietnamese workers thronged to get back to work before the riot broke out.  Source: Techz.vn

As of this posting, the Vietnamese government has yet to comment.  While South Korea’s news agency Yonhap News said one Vietnamese worker was injured, a variety of Vietnamese news sites put the number of injuries at four to 11.

may-nhan-dien-van-tay-1488291617890

The Samsung factory gate remained closed after police broke up the crowd.  Source: dantri.com.vn

Samsung’s Vietnam

The riot is the latest manifestation of Samsung’s smoldering tensions with labor in Vietnam where it is now the largest foreign employer.  In Jan. 2014, in a similar pattern local workers and South Korean security guards clashed at the construction site of a $3.2 billion Samsung Electronics plant in the Vietnamese province of Thai Nguyen, leaving 13 people injured.

Since 2008, Samsung Group has invested a total of $17.3 billion in Vietnam.  Samsung Display, a spinoff of Samsung Electronics, alone is investing a total of $6.5 billion in the country.  Currently, more than 100,000 Vietnamese workers assemble close to 50 percent of Samsung mobile phones and 100 percent of high-end Galaxy smartphones.

Apart from flashpoints like riots or violent clashes, little information is available about working conditions at Samsung factories in the Southeastern Asian country.  However, the Galaxy 7 fiasco last year offered a sneak peek: Vietnamese workers had to assemble close to 7 million replacements for fire-prone Galaxy 7 handsets during the five days Harvest Moon holidays for the hasty recall that flopped.

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.

 

Correction, Feb. 28, 8:05pm EST:  The following sentence is now removed from the post as it contained a link to a YouTube clip of Vietnamese workers rioting at a Samsung plant in Jan. 2014:

Another clip shows the burning entrance and turnstiles, attesting to the intensity of the clash.”

Correction, March 1, 7:00am EST:  References to fire are now removed from the following sentences as it has turned out that there were no attempts at arson during the strife;

“Thousands of workers milled around the gate of the construction site of a Samsung Display Co., Ltd factory in Vietnam, scuttling with private security forces and smashing or setting security facilities afire, after security guards threw a worker to the ground, according to multiple press reports from South Korea and Vietnam”; and

“Soon, about 2,000 enraged workers rioted, pushed aside security guards and set the turnstiles afire.”

 

00502600_20170217

Sharing shamanic advice?  South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Vice Chairman Lee chatted at an economic conference in 2016.  Source: Presidential Office

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.

 

fteditorial

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

 

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.

rice-cake

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.

sharps-rally

SHARPS’s contingent at the Feb. 18 candlelight rally

img_2185

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.

KCOMWEL has appealed the ruling, SHARPS learned on Feb. 27.  Twice in the past, in Nov. 2014 and Jan. 2016, the workers comp agency appealed two separate rulings in favor of two women victims assisted by the advocacy group. 

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

Update, Feb. 27, 2:30PM EST:  Updated to include a decision by KCOMWEL to appeal the ruling.

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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.

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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.