A young researcher died of what appears to be occupationally caused leukemia at Samsung SDI, where a corporate motto reads, “SDI practices human respect.”  Source: Samsung SDI Website capture


A young researcher has died of leukemia only three years after he began work at Samsung SDI Co. Ltd, the conglomerate’s electronic materials unit.

The otherwise healthy 31-year-old researcher, identified only by his surname Hwang, died on Jan. 29, about 13 months after his diagnosis with leukemia, SHARPS said in a press statement on Jan. 30.

A Deadly Career

In May 2014, upon earning a graduate degree in chemistry, Hwang took a job at Samsung SDI, assisting in developing etch materials for semiconductor processing.  In Dec. 2017, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia, at which time he petitioned for workers compensation and requested epidemiologic investigations of his labs.  Thirteen months later, he died while awaiting a first reply from the KCOMWEL.

Lethal Exposure

Just as with many Samsung victims before him, Hwang was outfitted on the job with little protective gear.  The following takeaways from the workers compensation petition he wrote reveal a likely lethal level of on-the-job chemical exposure:

  • I worked in a cleanroom at the Suwon plant of Samsung SDI from May 2014 onward.
  • I was responsible for assessing mixtures of aromatic polymers such as benzene and naphthalene.
  • I used hands to douse wafers with photosensitive liquids.  When the liquids vaporized and spread to the 1-meter radius of my workstation, the residues were so rampant that the area turned red.
  • When I coated semiconductor substrates with photoresistors, massive odors penetrated the mask and assailed my nostrils.

They Knew All Along

Hwang is not only the latest victim of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster, he is one of the first known victims among researchers who had been considered better paid and protected than young female line workers who comprise the majority of the victims.

In Nov. 2015 in the South Korean city of Gwangju, this blogger, who anonymously updates these blogs as a volunteer, had the rare opportunity to question a Samsung executive-turned politician about the cluster.  When this writer asked what she, as a female politician with strong ties with Samsung, could do for the terminally ill women workers, the politician answered: “It’s not that only factory workers were dead or sick.  Researchers died, too.”

While sending shivers down the spine of this writer, her remarks suggested that Samsung could have at least some knowledge of the cluster from its inception.  After her failed bid for a National Assembly seat, she has a high-ranking job in the Moon Jae-in government.

Decades of Union Busting

Samsung SDI is not part of the compensation program agreed to by SHARPS and Samsung in Nov. 2018 as it focuses mainly on victims from semiconductor and LCD units.

Samsung SDI is infamous for union busting.  And its successful frustration of unionization drives means that likely victims of the cluster have no place to turn within their company.

Nothing better demonstrates the company’s anti-union brutality than the thirty-one years of agony wrought upon Lee Man-shin, a worker who attempted to form a union in 1987.  Samsung SDI sent him offshore in the early 1990s.  He had since been transferred to various locations globally until 2011.   The following year, the company fired Lee for his ongoing involvement with a unionization drive.

A company document, made in 2002 and leaked in 2014, showed Samsung SDI security staff tailed munje sawon, roughly translated “troublemakers”, and tapped their cell phones.

In 2014, the appeals court ruled in favor of Lee’s reinstatement.  With a highest-court ruling still pending, Lee, now 55 years old, still stages a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in Seoul, where he and his unionists hold rallies on every Thursday.


Lee Man-shin (left) has been fighting for his union at Samsung SDI since 1987.  Source: hani.co.kr

New Movement

Hwang’s death came at a time when the gruesome on-the-job death of a young temporary worker kindled a new wave of protests against workplace hazards and job insecurity.

In Dec. 2017, Kim Yong-kyun, 24 years old, was killed at a thermal plant about 150 kilometers southwest of Seoul after being sucked into a coal conveyer belt and decapitated.  Kim was alone responsible for overseeing a high-speed one-mile-long conveyor belt, alternating 10-hour night and day shifts.  A temporary worker under a one-year contract, Kim was not offered protective gear or safety education.

Following his death, the country’s quarrelsome National Assembly quickly passed a long-dormant bill to strengthen workplace safety.  However, the emerging campaign calls for limiting the subcontracting of high-risk jobs and replacing temporary jobs with permanent ones with benefits and security.

The protesters set up an altar for Kim in central Seoul.  SHARPS and other labor advocates organized a hunger strike there.  Candlelight vigils are regularly held.

An English-language online petition drive is currently underway for Kim Yong-kyun.    


Kwon Young-eun, a SHARPS activist, spoke at a vigil on Jan. 30 for Kim Yong-kyun.  Source: SHARPS




This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Nov. 23, 2018 SHARPS finally extracted from Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. a meaningful apology for the deaths and illnesses caused by its unsafe working condition and an initiative to compensate the victims and improve workers safety.

It was likely the beginning of an end to an era, at least in South Korea, in which a corporate behemoth freely harmed chemically drenched young workers while churning out state-of-the-art electronic components.

And It was a first of its kind moment in the country’s labor history:  a historically unrepentant Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. finally caved in to a tenacious and agile campaign initiated by an average middle-aged taxi driver who went everywhere to find anyone who would listen to how he lost his otherwise healthy 21-year-old daughter to occupationally caused leukemia at the world’s largest chip lab.


“Our dear co-workers and their families have suffered for a long time,” said Kim Ki-nam, Samsung’s representative director responsible for device components, as requested by an earlier arbitration decision, “but Samsung Electronics did not wholeheartedly take care of them sooner.”

“In the past, Samsung Electronics did not sufficiently and completely manage the risk associated with health hazards at chip and LCD plants,” Mr. Kim said as he matter-of-factly read the apology in a press conference joined by victims and their families, many sobbing, and labor-department officials, as well as lawmakers who assisted Kim Ji-young, a former supreme-court justice, in steering the arbitration process.

After reading the apology, Mr. Kim took a deep bow and stepped off the podium to shake hands with SHARPS founder Hwang Sang-ki and other victims, one in a wheelchair and one with a white cane.  Mr. Hwang, the taxi driver, campaigned hard to shed light on his daughter Yumi’s occupationally caused death at Samsung.


On Nov. 20, 2007 when Mr. Hwang and tens of activists formed SHARPS, only five news outlets reported it. Among the five, only two were national newspapers.  Every year, Samsung pastes the front pages of the New Year issues of all national newspapers with its ad.


Samsung’s 929-word apology did not exceed the arbitration decision even by a word.  It fell short of directly admitting that its working condition was the direct cause of mass illnesses and deaths.

“The apology made by Samsung’s representative director today, to be honest, is not sufficient to the victims and their families,” said Mr. Hwang in response to Mr. Kim’s remarks.  “Indeed, no apology will be sufficient, given countless deceptions and insults wrought upon SHARPS [by Samsung] and the agonies of occupational diseases and the pain in the loss of their beloved next-of kin.”

“However, I will take the apology today as Samsung’s resolution,” said Hwang as he read his hand-written three-page response.  “I am glad I can made good on the promise I made to my daughter Yumi.”  He went on saying: “However, I cannot forget the agonies my family and Yumi had to suffered from.  So many people share in the same pain.”


As requested by the arbitration decision, Samsung has retained Jipyung, a Seoul-based law firm, to manage its new compensation program, said Mr. Kim.  Under the new program, the company will distribute up to KRW 150 million (U$132,667 at U$1: KRW 1,130) for the illnesses and deaths of former and current workers or contractors who grew ill after working for a full year at the company’s chip or LCD plants.

The program has expanded to include pulmonary conditions and birth defects, compared with the one Samsung launched in 2015 in a move to pit victims against one another over compensation.  Its stratagem backfired, as it prompted SHARPS to stage a sit-in at Samsung’s headquarters.

The increasingly high-profile protest lasted 1,023 days and became a global rallying point against Samsung’s corporate malfeasance.

Pointing to the fact that the program is limited to LCD and chip units, Mr. Hwang said: “Occupational-disease victims are not limited to Samsung’s LCD or chip unit….  I hope Samsung will launch a more comprehensive scheme for all victims [at home and abroad].”

Sweat and Toil

Separately, Samsung entrusted the Korean Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA), to manage KRW 50 billion ($$44.1 million) in funds it paid out to improve workers safety in the electronics industry.

“It is praiseworthy because it is not an easy decision for Samsung,” Mr. Hwang said, commenting on the fund.  “However, we must remember that the fund is made of the sweat and toil of workers.”


During the first three years of SHARPS in 2007-10, the police often harassed and arrested SHARPS activists. In March 2010, the police filmed all attendees of a funeral service for Park Jie-yeon, a Samsung employee who died of leukemia.


As of June 2018, since its formation in Nov. 2007, SHARPS has profiled 320 victims of Samsung’s cluster.  Of them, 118 have died.  The advocacy group has, via petition or lawsuit, successfully helped 28 victims to get workers compensation.

Spurred by the arbitration decision, Han Hye-kyung, a wheelchair-bound victim of occupationally caused brain tumors and a leading member of SHARPS, is seeking retrial of her workers compensation case.

In 2014, the appeals court has turned down Ms. Han’s petition by shifting the burden of proof for the work-relatedness of her brain tumors from Samsung to her.  The ruling seemed to exhaust her legal recourse until Feb. 2017 when in a landmark ruling the same appeals court ruled that a Samsung LCD worker’s multiple sclerosis was caused by her on-the-job chemical exposure without seeking proof of work-relatedness from the plaintiff.


Anti-riot cops arrested seven SHARPS activists who attempted to march toward Samsung’s corporate headquarters after Ms. Park’s funeral service.  Gradually diminishing, the harassment continued until July 2013.


The following is a full translation of Mr. Hwang’s statement.  All text in brackets ([ ]) are added to aid comprehension:

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to every single person who has worked hard to resolve such a difficult issue.  I appreciate Justice Kim Ji-hyung, the mediation committee’s chair, and its two members, Dr. Paik Do-myung and Ms. Jung Kang-ja for their resilience and tenacity in their mediation efforts.  I thank all our researchers.  Their advice made the compensation program possible.  I thank those lawmakers for exhorting and persuading Samsung to address the issue.  I thank the labor and civic activists who rolled up their sleeves to solve the issue as if their own.  I thank the countless volunteers for keeping our 1,023-day sit-in going, and numerous donors for donating money and food.

The apology made by Samsung’s representative director today, to be honest, is not sufficient to the victims and their families.  Indeed, no apology will be sufficient, given countless deceptions and insults wrought upon SHARPS [by Samsung] and the agony of occupational diseases and the pain in the loss of their beloved next-of kin.

However, I will take the apology today as Samsung’s resolution. Compared with its earlier one, Samsung’s new compensation program has expanded metrics to affect victims known and yet unknown to SHARPS.  This is fortunate.  However, it is could have included those who are still left out because they are belonged to a contractor or their illness is not covered by the program.

Samsung agreed to entrust the Korean Occupational Safety and Health Agency with KRW 50 billion ($$44.1 million) in funds it created [to improve workers safety in the electronics industry].  It is praiseworthy because it is not an easy decision for Samsung.  However, we must remember that the fund is made of the sweat and toil of workers.  I would like to ask the KOSHA to take the invaluable meaning of the fund seriously and properly spend it improving the safety and health of electronics workers.

We all still have unfinished tasks.  Occupational disease is not limited to Samsung Electronics’ chip and LCD units. There are workers who grew ill from hazard exposure at Samsung Electro-Mechanics, Samsung SDS, Samsung SDI and many other Samsung affiliates.  There are similar victims at Samsung’s home and overseas operations.  I hope Samsung will launch a more comprehensive scheme for all victims.

Had workers compensation approval not been so difficult, workers and their families would have not suffered this much.  To date, KCOMWEL has only brought despair upon us.  It is time to reform workers compensation and KCOMWEL so they can carry out their original mission of protecting the rights of industrial accident victims. The business owners must be thoroughly investigated and criminally penalized when there is an industrial accident at a place of business.

Prevention is more important than compensation when it comes to occupational disease.  The industrial safety and health law must be strengthened to ensure workers, and indeed all citizens, know and have a say in what chemicals are used [at their workplaces].  It is difficult for workers alone to monitor the safety of their workplaces and provide alternatives.  Especially, this is out of the question at non-unionized workplaces.  Samsung has been suppressing unions at home and abroad. Samsung, at least now, must apologize and promise to respect the right to unionization, Samsung and all other conglomerates have not improved difficult and risky jobs, but instead outsourced them to smaller companies at home and offshore.  To discontinue this, the government and the National Assembly should introduce legislation to strictly hold original vendors accountable, and corporations should set an example by providing accountability plans for safety and health.

I am glad that I can make good on the promise I made to my daughter Yumi.  However, I cannot forget the agonies my family and Yumi had to suffer from.  So many people are sharing in the same pain.  I would like to urge all who are to implement the compensation program or manage the fund to keep this [pain] in mind.  Thank you.


Samsung security guards routinely used excessive force in response to non-violent protests.  The picture was taken on March 9,. 2009 when SHARPS members demanded a meeting with Samsung executives.  Mr. Hwang (on the right in the picture) was thrown on to the floor.

The following is a full translation of the apology By Mr. Kim on Samsung’s behalf.  All text in brackets ([ ]) are added to aid comprehension:

We would like to express our gratitude to mediation committee chair Kim Ji-hyung, and its two members, Dr. Paik Do-myung and Ms. Jung Kang-ja, for in seeking social consensus, settling the issue that we could not solve for ten years.

And I appreciate SHARPS debating [with us] to address the issue against all odds.

Our dear co-workers and their families have suffered for a long time, but Samsung Electronics did not wholeheartedly take care of them sooner.

Our efforts fell short of sufficiently caring for their pain and promptly addressing it.

In the past, Samsung Electronics did not sufficiently and completely manage the risk associated with health hazards at chip and LCD plants.

We would like to use this opportunity to express our sincere apology to employees who suffered and their families.

With this opportunity, Samsung Electronics will be born again as a healthy and safe workplace.

I thank the lawmakers, Woo Won-shik, Sim Sang-jung, and Lee Jung-mi, and labor department director Ahn Kyung-duk and his colleagues for their interest, consultation, and advice for the difficult and long-unsolved issue.

Once again, we deeply apologize to those who are suffering.

We now would like to announce plans to implement the arbitration decision.

Samsung is promising to unconditionally implement the decision announced on Nov. 1, 2018.

We would like to implement the following details.

As agreed with SHARPS and decided by the mediation committee, we have retained law firm Jipyung, an independent body, to run the compensation commission.

SHARPS and we agreed that the commission will be chaired by Kim Ji-hyung, the firm’s managing partner.

As dictated by the arbitration decision and by a detailed plan by the commission chair, Samsung Electronics will, without interruption, make compensation until 2028.

As dictated by the arbitration decision, Samsung Electronics will post its apology and compensation coverage on its corporate website no later than Nov. 30, 2018.

Additionally, Samsung Electronics will, through the new compensation commission, send an apology to each payee to express our consolations.

Samsung Electronics and SHARPS agreed that the KRW 50 billion [$$44.1 million] fund it created for industrial safety will be entrusted with the KOSHA for their impartiality and expertise

Samsung Electronics will do its best effort to bring this social consensus, the result of your hard efforts, to fruition.

Thank you.






SHARPS was marching on when Samsung attempted to shirk its responsibility.  Source: The Hankyoreh

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. should compensate workers falling ill at its LCD and chip plants from 1984 onward, the Mediation Committee said on Nov. 1, 2018 in its final arbitration decision.  The committee also requests a Samsung representative director should publicly read an apology before an audience of its occupational victims and their families to fully express the conglomerate’s sincerity.

A Decade-Long Standoff

Samsung and SHARPS agreed in July that they would consent to the arbitration decision made by the Mediation Committee, an independent body formed in 2014 to broker a deal between the two parties. Though led by a retired supreme court justice, the committee’s efforts bore little fruit.  On Oct. 8, 2015, SHARPS began a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters after the corporation’s unilateral departure from the mediation structure.  The sit-in lasted 1,023 days until July 2018.

Sit-in and Behind-the-Scenes Efforts

The July agreement was the result of a behind-the-scenes, last-ditch effort by the committee to end a decade-long standoff in which a small labor advocacy group had tenaciously penetrated the wall of silence at the world’s largest tech firm which still boasts its anti-union policy as the core of its corporate culture.

“Since we agreed to do so in July, we will act on the arbitration decision,” Kong Jeong-ok, a medical doctor and a SHARPS founder, told the independent daily Hankyoreh.

“We will keep our promise to completely adhere to the mediator decision and will quickly come up with plans to implement the decision,” Reuters quoted Samsung as saying in a press statement.

Wider Coverage at the Cost of Individual Payouts 

The committee appears to have aim to adjust the ceiling of individual payouts to make sure that as many workers as possible for as wide a variety of diseases as possible will be compensated under its compensation framework.

“To prioritize [the plan’s] coverage, we lowered the ceiling for individual payouts and expanded to coverage to benefit a maximum number of victims,” the committee said in a press statement.

The committee increased the number of diseases covered by the scheme by including such pulmonary conditions as lung cancer.  Samsung launched a limited compensation scheme in 2015 when it walked out of the mediation process.  The scheme did not cover any pulmonary diseases, though workers began to die of lung cancerIn Sept. 2016, KCOMWEL posthumously ruled that a Samsung worker’s lung cancer was occupationally caused.

Press Conference

The committee requested SHARPS and Samsung hold a press conference by the end of November to announce implementation plans and to have a Samsung representative director read the apology.

SHARPS has not released a formal statement yet.  The advocacy group will announce one at the press conference, likely scheduled for mid-November.

The following are key takeaways from the decision:

  • Samsung will compensate former and current workers employed for a year at the semiconductor and LCD plants of Samsung and its contractors between May 17, 1984 and Oct. 31, 2028 who developed a variety of blood disorders, cancers, and pulmonary conditions. (May 17, 1984 was when Samsung’s first memory chip lab went online at the Kiheung plant, now the cluster of occupational disease).
  • The ceiling for individual compensation is set at KRW150 million won (U$132,667 at U$1: KRW 1,130).
  • Samsung will pay up to KRW 5 million ($4,400) for a genetic disorder occupationally caused to the victim.
  • Samsung will pay KRW 3 million and KRW 1 million for stillbirths and miscarriages.
  • The compensation ceiling and coverage period may be subject to renewal after the first 10 years.
  • The 53 SHARPS-profiled workers have to the right to choose between the arbitrated compensation program or Samsung’s own scheme of 2015 for better payout.
  • An independent commission should be formed to manage the new compensation program.
  • A Samsung representative director should publicly read the company’s formal apology in the presence of victims and their families.
  • Samsung should create KRW 50 billion (U$ 44.4 million) in funds aimed at the improvement of workers safety and health in the electronics industry.



CCTV footage is released belying Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s claims about the recent carbon dioxide leak that left two dead and two injured at Samsung’s Giheuing plant on Sept. 4.

Recue In Real Time?

On Sept. 4, three temporary workers from Samsung’s contractor lost consciousness, poisoned by CO2 spewed through ruptured valves in a basement storage.  Two workers are now dead and two, including one Samsung first responder, injured.

Following the leak, Seo Dong-myeon, a Samsung spokesman, said Samsung’s own first responders rescued the three workers poisoned by the gas “almost in real time.”

Security Turnstile:  Putting Security Above Human Life

However, CCTV footage showed two of its own first responders showed up at the scene ten minutes after the leak.  They were not equipped with any protective gear but safety helmets, and had no emergency medical kits.  They spent twenty seconds passing the security turnstile with their ID cards.  Another ten minutes passed before five rescue workers, wearing oxygen masks, showed up. They also used security cards to pass the turnstile.

One Gurney and No Oxygen Kit

A CPR kit arrived 28 minutes after the leak, the footage shows, there was only one gurney.  The rescuers dragged the victims by their feet and performed CPR on them in the hallway.  No first aid oxygen kit was in sight.  A Samsung responder passed out upon getting off the elevator, revealing the fatally high density of CO2 at the site of the leak.

The footage was obtained by a lawmaker and released by the TV network JTBC, which filed this report

The following are image captures from the report (some images are blurred by the JTBC):


Ten minutes into the leak, two Samsung responders without protective gear attempt to pass the security turnstile with their ID cards. The turnstile remained locked until thirty minutes after the leak.



Twenty minutes after the leak, five responders equipped with protective gear showed up. They did not bring a CPR kit or a gurney.



A Samsung rescuer passed out, revealing the high CO2 density of the site.



Victims were pulled by their feet because there was no gurney.



A gurney finally arrived.



A CPR kit finally arrived about twenty minutes after the first response.




Rescue workers performed CPR on a victim on the floor.



A victim passed through the turnstile, now unlocked.


On Sept. 12, SHARPS and civil-society groups formed an ad hoc committee, calling on the government to better regulate Samsung’s safety measures.


Last week’s fatal carbon dioxide leak at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s flagship chip plant claimed another life on Sept 12, as a 54-year-old worker was pronounced dead after eight days in a coma.  His death brought the toll up to two out of the four victims hospitalized on Sept 4. after their exposure to the gas.  One victim died the day he was exposed. The third remains unconscious.  A Samsung paramedic was also injured.

The four victims’ identities were not released.

Temporary Workers and Ruptured Valves

The three non-Samsung victims, all temps from the company’s outsourcer, were poisoned by carbon dioxide as they worked in a basement storage facility for the gas at the company’s Giheung plant in South Korea’s Gyonggi province.  The cause of the leak has yet to be determined, but valves were seen ruptured, according to Yonhap News.


Samsung left the local emergency management system in the dark over the leak, the independent Hankyoreh said on Sept. 12, after obtaining transcripts of phone calls between the company and EMS.

The EMS first contacted Samsung about two hours and 15 minutes after the leak. Samsung said, “the situation is over,” declining the EMS’s assistance.  Asked by the EMS whether and where the victims were hospitalized, Samsung answered it would let them know soon—but it did not.

The EMS had to inquire at all area hospitals.  It finally determined the victims’ whereabouts about two hours and 39 minutes after the leak.

On Sept. 10, the police conducted a search warrant at three locations of Giheung plant, now under probe by a 15-member multi-agency taskforce.

Civil Society Reacts

SHARPS and the two organizations, Gyonggi Environmental Forum and the province branch of the Green Party Korea, have formed an ad hoc committee to monitor the aftermath of the CO2 leak.

“We call on the government to determine whether Samsung has implemented safety measures as ordered in special audits over earlier fatal leaks at other Samsung plants in 2013 and 2014,” said the committee in a press conference on Sept. 12.

In the 2013 audit alone of two separate hydrofluoric acid, leaks the government discovered more than 2,000 safety breaches at Samsung and its outsourcers.






A carbon dioxide leak left a worker dead and three other injured at Samsung’s chip plant.    Photo source: MBC News Desk (YouTube capture)


A gas leak has left one worker dead and two critically injured at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s flagship chip plant—an event reminiscent of a fatal gas leak that hit another Samsung plant five years ago.

On Sept. 4 afternoon, three workers passed out in a basement unit of Samsung’s Giheung plant in Gyonggi province, poisoned by carbon dioxide as they carried firefighting cylinders containing the gas.  Hours later, the youngest one, aged 24, was pronounced dead at the hospital.  The others, 26 and 54 years old respectively, are in critical condition.

Also, Samsung’s own paramedic was hospitalized after getting injured while treating the victims, said Kyeongin Ilbo, a local daily, in an exclusive report.  Samsung did not disclose the paramedic’s hospitalization in earlier press releases or did not report to authorities, the newspaper said on Sept 6.

“The first responder was injured while treating the victims,” Kyeongin quoted a Samsung spokesman as saying. “He will be discharged today, depending on test results on his carbon dioxide exposure.”

As of this posting, the four men’s identities are not released.

History of Leaks

In many ways, the carbon dioxide leak is a rerun of another fatal leak from January 2013. At Samsung’s Hwaseong plant, also in Gyonggi, two expired gaskets of a 500-liter tank leaked twice, spewing a total of ten liters of diluted hydrofluoric acid gas, an impurity remover that can instantly and permanently damage pulmonary organs and corneas.  The leaks killed one workers and injured four others.

Despite the fatality and Samsung’s attempts at covering up, the South Korean government brought criminal charges against four executives and employees of STI, the Samsung contractor responsible for facility maintenance and safety. Only three mid-level Samsung managers were charged.

Pattern of Leaks

The world’s largest tech conglomerate may well attempt again to shirk responsibility and dodge criminal charges.

The victims of the carbon dioxide leak were employees of Samsung’s contractor, a fact which revealed that Samsung still outsources such major first-response jobs as fire prevention and safety.

In 2013, the company used a first-response outsourcer to patch up the leaks and transported the victims to hospital.  The tech conglomerate did not immediately report them to authorities, leading to horrified elementary schools in its vicinity postponing the new semester.  Despite public outcries, the province government did not conduct an epidemiological probe of the area.

Outsourced First Response

The corporate giant’s outsourcing of first response often proved fatal.  In May 2017, six workers were killed and more than twenty 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.

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.


This time, at least, Samsung used its own first-responders to rescue the victims.

However, the Samsung plant reported the leak to its police and fire precincts after the death of the worker, or about two hours after the accident, sidelining the province’s emergency management system.

“We attempted to contact Samsung for a number of times after learning about the leak,” independent daily Hankyoreh quoted an unnamed EMS official as saying.  “We received a report from the company about two hours after the leak.”

“This is a clear violation of the Firefighting Basic Law,” the anonymous source added.

“It did not constitute a gave situation [necessitating us contacting the EMS] until there was a fatality,” a Samsung spokesperson told Yonhap News.


Gyonggi province will launch a special probe into the Samsung plant to determine whether Samsung violated the law when it did not immediately report the leak, Governor Jae-myung, who took office three months ago, said in a Facebook posting.  Separately, he sent an EMS taskforce to the plant to prevent any fallout from the leak.



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you still believe corporations today are too powerful to be challenged, or you still doubt the power of ordinary people to defy and defeat corporate nastiness and abuse, here is some news for you:  a small labor advocacy group has just extracted long-awaited, major concessions from one of the world’s nastiest and most powerful companies.

Official Triumph

It’s now official.  On July 24, SHARPS and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. signed an agreement, under which a third-party mediation committee will produce an arbitration proposal by October regarding the tech conglomerate’s occupational disease clusters.

The proposal will bind Samsung to make a public apology to its cluster victims, to compensate them under new criteria, and to revamp workplace safety measures—all as proposed by the Mediation Committee.

“It is truly deplorable that the issues of workers having fallen ill and died from on-the-job chemical exposure remained unsolved for more than ten long years,” said Hwang Sang-ki, a SHARPS founder and a 63-year-old taxi driver who lost her then-21-year-old daughter in 2007 to occupationally caused leukemia at Samsung, “just because they were poor ones without money and power.”

“Samsung will proactively cooperate with the Mediation Committee,” said Kim Sung-sik, Samsung’s executive vice president who signed the agreement on his company’s behalf.  “Only a complete solution [of the occupational disease] would console the sickened workers and their families.”

Ramming the Invincibility of Samsung

Samsung needs to turn around its tarnished image ahead of a supreme court ruling for founding family scion Lee Jae-yong, according to multiple local press reports. Lee may face long prison terms after allegedly bribing a now-impeached President Park Geun-hye to facilitate his hereditary takeover of Samsung.

However, it was SHARPS’s tenacious campaign that continued to punch holes in the impenetrable walls of a scandal-ridden Samsung empire.

“We began the sit-in with two desperate tasks in mind,” said SHARPS in a statement after signing the agreement.  “First, we needed to make the world know Samsung’s occupational-disease issue was still ongoing, and second, we needed to have discontinued dialogue with Samsung re-initiated,” SHARPS added.

“After enduring more than 1,000 days on streets, we achieved both,” the advocacy group concluded.

 Ending The Sit-in

On July 25 evening, SHARPS and its supporters held a rally ending their sit-in after 1,023 days.

“What a victory,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, in a video feed at the rally.  “Now we need to see that Samsung is forced to reveal the names of these chemicals [used in production],” added the leader of the 180-million-strong global union organization.  In May 2017, she visited the sit-in to mark the 600th day of the protest.


One of the first nights during SHARPS’ 1,023-day sit-in

On Victims

As of June 2018, SHARPS has profiled 320 victims of Samsung’s cluster. Among them 118 have died.  The advocacy group has, via petition or through court filings, successfully assisted 28 victims of Samsung and others in getting workers compensation.

The following is a full translation of Hwang Sang-ki’s remarks about the agreement.  All brackets ([ ]) are added to aid readability:   

More than thirteen years have passed since my Yumi fell victim to leukemia

She had to tender her resignation while under medical treatment for the disease.  Samsung collected her resignation letter after promising me KRW 50 million [U$44,000] to reimburse some medical expenses I had paid for.  They gave me KRW 5 million (U$4,400], instead. A big corporation should not unscrupulously break its own promise to its own workers who were dying due to on-the-job chemical exposure.

It is truly deplorable that the issues of workers having fallen ill and died from on-the-job chemical exposure remained unsolved for more than ten long years, just because they were poor ones without money and power.

I [often] could not but to ask what the government and corporations are for.

Nevertheless, it is really a relief to get clues to the solution of Samsung’s occupational-disease issue.

I welcome it.

There must be no repeat of such workplace issues in my country.  I am grateful to Mediation Committee Chair and others who have been showing interest in the matter.  Thank you.

Hwang Sang-ki, SHARPS

July 24, 2018


The following is a full translation of the statement SHARPS released on the agreement.  All brackets ([ ]) are added to aid readability:   

  1. Today, SHARPS and Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd agreed to accept the arbitration framework proposed by the Mediation Committee.

  2.  It was five years and seven months ago when the proposal for mediation was made.  It was three years and one day ago when the Mediation Committee unveiled its first proposal.  It was 1,022 days ago when we began to sit in, awaiting re-initiation of the dialogue that had never been initiated with Samsung over the mediation proposal.

  3. It still feels less than adequate that arbitration has supplanted direct dialogue of the two parties.  However, we could have not made this invaluable step forward without such long and hard periods.

  4. We appreciate the Mediation Committee spending considerable amounts time and efforts addressing the [occupational disease] issue. Indeed, it was not easy to consent, in advance, to an arbitration proposal without knowing the details.  We decided to place trust in an initiation pledge by the Mediation Committee:  It would perceive the [occupational disease] issue as part of a [broader] social agenda and help solve it in kind.  In its proposal for arbitration., the committee said, “the Mediation Committee has to consider rational criteria that can be used for any future [occupational disease] victims to receive appropriate assistance.”  In the hope that it will make good on this commitment, we expect the arbitration proposal.

  5. It was not an easy decision for Samsung to consent to the proposal.  Since it has made a difficult commitment, we hope the wishes and demands of society reach out to Samsung: it should safeguard the lives and safety of workers in a wholesome way that fits its influence and status.

  6. We wholeheartedly appreciate our supporters who spent two winters and three summers [in a makeshift canopy] without a proper roof or floor despite severe cold snaps and heat waves.  Thanks to you, we did not envy any five-star hotel guests.  We show our respect to victims and their families for their persistence. Holding their hands together, they have, by themselves, endured times of agony, frustration and anger.

  7. As under the agreement, we will end the sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters tomorrow with a rally.  On Oct. 7, 2015, we began the sit-in with two desperate tasks in mind:  First, we needed to make the world know Samsung’s occupational-disease issue was still ongoing, and second, we needed to have discontinued dialogue reinitiated with Samsung. After enduring more than 1,000 days on streets, we achieved both.  This is a valuable triumph made possible by those who supported and who showed solidarity.

  8. We will now revitalize our bodies and souls drained during the outdoor sit-in and anticipate the arbitration proposal.  With the agreement today, we tied the first knot. We hope you altogether closely watch us until the proposal is made and implemented.


July 24, 2018