Archive for September, 2011

New victims from other companies

Recently SHARPs was able to get some information of several cancer victims of different companies from Samsung.

One of them is Kim Jin-ki, 38 year-old male worker of Magna-chip semiconductor in Cheongjoo City, which used to be a part of Hynix Semiconductor.

The press conference in front of KCOMWEL Cheongjoo office on Sep 8. The woman in center is Yim Jinsook, the wife of Kim, with the picture of Kim.

He used to work for 14 years as a maintenance engineer of an ion implanter (the facility for implantation of ion as Arsenic or Phosphorus into the silicon wafer), being exposed to various chemicals and radiation. He got leukemia last year, and several years before he got a thyroid disease too. He died on May 28, due to the graft-versus-host-reaction after a bone marrow transplantation. He had been healthy before he got the diseases from his workplace. There is no familial history of cancer in his parents and his two brothers.

SHARPs with some local activists and a labor attorney prepared his application for workers’ compensation. We made a press conference together on September 8, when his wife applied for compensation to the government.

The second victim we discovered was from the medium-sized company, Kijoo industrial Co. in Incheon City, one of the suppliers of LG and Samsung, manufacturing PCB for those big companies.

The victim’s name is Park Sung Chul, born in 1977 in China. His family used to be the “Chosun-jok”, the Korean people in China, and he recently came back to Korea and got the new nationality as a South Korean.

But he and all his family have been living as ‘migrant’ workers. That’s why Park who had graduated university of economics had to work as a blue collar worker, in the cleansing and plating process using various chemicals.

After three years of work, he got leukemia. The heart-breaking story is he had given up further treatment after three times of chemotherapy. He had been recommended bone marrow transplantation, but he refused all kinds of therapy… due to the lack of money… The family of migrant workers was too poor to support all the treatment. So he had been lying in his home under his old mother’s care, and died on September 22.

His uncle had tried to find out someone who can help them for workers’ compensation, and through a local NGO he could meet the Korean Metal Workers Union. On August 10, Korean Metal Workers Union put in a collective compensation application of many cancer victims including Park. His cancer and death show all the typical problems in workers’ claiming their right to safety and health.

SHARPs activities

The poster for the website of Bahn-dahl 2011. You can see the faces doing 'Ho~' on the left.

SHARPs has been making a concentrated series of public activities under that name every year, at the end of July. In the Korean language, the abbreviation of that name is “Bahn-Dahl” which has the same pronunciation as “half-moon”. So  the symbol of these actions is the half-moon.

This year, we’ve changed the Bahn-Dahl into six weeks of action, under the slogan of “Ho~”.

The “Ho~” means the motion of blowing a breath, usually to cool down hot food for child or to reduce pain of a wound. It can be used when people try to comfort pain of others, both physically and mentally. This slogan was made for waking up the heart of solidarity that people have within themselves, and for making a space for us to tell them what is the real pain of the victims and what must be done to relieve it.

We will gather signatures demanding;

1. to compensate the victims right now (and accept and follow the court decision and withdraw the appeal),

2. to disclose all the information. Especially, the government agencies like OSHRI in KOSHA must reveal their research results according to the law on public organizations’ disclosuree of information. Also we are demanding the right to participate in the relevant research.

3. and to take the responsibility on the part of the government and the company. Especially, the government must make   to improve the working environment to guarantee workers’ safety and health, covering all the electronic sector.

Bahn-Dahl was begun on September 21 in Suwon city where the major Samsung semiconductor factories are located. Off-line activities of Bahn-Dahl is mainly a candle-light rally once a week with some cultural performances like songs, dances, and short movies, at Busan, Suwon, Seoul, Cheonan, and Cheongju cities.

On-line activities include internet petition-signing to a demand letter, which will go on till October and finally be made into a formal protest letter to the government and Samsung.

Here are some photos of the first Bahn-Dahl in front of Suwon Station

The Lawsuits

The first group of five leukemia and lymphoma victims have filed the lawsuit against government’s refusal to compensate; all the cases went to the high court on July 14, and now are in the course of preparing documents.

The second group of victims in the lawsuit is composed of four victims with different diseases like brain tumor (Han Hyekyoung, Samsung LCD), aplastic anemia (You Myoungwha, Samsung semiconductor), multiple sclerosis (Lee Heejin, Samsung semiconductor), and malignant brain cancer (Lee Yoonjeong, Samsung semiconductor); they are each in the course of court processes. Two of them, You Myoungwha and Lee Yoonjeong, are from the same department of Burn-in test in Samsung semiconductor factory at Onyang City.

The press conference of second group lawsuit is at the Seoul administrative court. (from the left) Han Hyekyoung (brain tumor, Samsung LCD), her mother, two lawyers, You Youngjong, the father of You Myounghwa (aplastic anemia, Samsung semiconductor), Jeong Heesoo, the husband of Lee Yoonjeong (brain cancer, Samsung semiconductor).

The Victims

At present, SHARPs has gathered the information of about 150 victims, among which there are around 50 deaths. The exact number needs to be calculated and updated again.

The number who have applied for national workers’ compensation through SHARPs is 21, including one Magna-chip worker. Of these 21 cases, 18 of them have been decided by KCOMWEL  to NOT be compensated, and others are still in the process of decision.

Lee Yoon-jeong, who had been diagnosed with malignant brain cancer in 2010 and been sentenced to be able to live only one year by the doctor, fell again recently. Her cancer couldn’t be removed fully. She gets chemotherapy again now, but the prognosis doesn’t seem to be good. We are praying for her survival with the least suffering. Her age is 31 now.

Han Haekyoung, the severely disabled women after removal of a huge tumor from her cerebellum since 2005, has been hospitalized in ‘Green Hospital’ for free to get rehabilitation treatment. However she and her mother have been suffering from poverty because none of them can work for money. SHARPs has been supporting the least money for their life every month for more than two years, by collecting money from many nameless contributors.

As the number of victims becomes bigger, the types and depth of pain of them which must be shared by the whole society become more serious. Many of the victims and their families need either economical or psychological support, or both.

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Today, September 2 is a historical day in the struggle for justice against the Samsung conglomerate. Samsung is one of the representative companies in Korea which has been ruled by owner Lee Kun-hee and his family. They have obstructed forming trade unions by making phantom unions to keep their policy of ‘No Unions’. In Korea, multiple trade unions have been allowed since July 2011. Thus Samsung has been taking disciplinary actions or dismissing workers who are trying to organize trade unions.

Meanwhile as it has no trade union, workers in Samsung are under terrible working conditions. At the beginning of Jan in 2011, 26 years old Kim Ju Hyun who was working at Samsung Electronics took his own life by plunging from the 13th story of dormitory owing to 14 hours of long hours labor, being exposed to chemicals, job stress and depression; and 24 years old Park Ki Sook jumped to death from the 18thstory. Until now more than 50 workers have been killed in occupational diseases and more than 100 workers are suffering from those disorders. However, so far Samsung has denied all kinds of responsibilities on them.

All the while, Samsung has kept watching, threatening and dismissing workers who are trying to form trade unions.  They even committed tapping cellphones and kidnapping workers.  Despite being under these tough circumstances, Samsung Trade Union has been organized. All comrades, your solidarities are strongly needed!

Samsung hired service employees by giving a monthly salary of 280 US dollars, whos only job is to give notice of assembly (first, pre-emptively, before other groups can) to keep workers and citizens from organizing any rally in front of its head office building. Under Korean demonstration law, nobody can hold a rally at the same place if anybody else gives notice first. But this time, narrowly our group managed to give notice of the assembly earlier than the company. Therefore we finally can make a rally censuring Samsung for their repression of trade unions and urging to the company to recognize occupational diseases in front of Samsung head office building on September 2.

We are asking you, all of Asian comrades to solidarize for this rally. Your solidarity would be a great help to workers who are painfully battling against Samsung.

Thank you.
Message from Korea House of International Solidarity, member of South Korean social coalition for justice from Samsung

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Major developments in the Samsung victims’ struggle took place in June and July of 2011.

The government agency KCOMWEL (Korea Compensation & Welfare Services) was the defendant in the lawsuit brought by the families of the five Samsung workers who were victims of occupational cancer. On June 23, the Seoul Administrative Court rejected the previous judgment of KCOMWEL, finding the agency to be wrong in rejecting the link of two victims’ illness, to their workplace.

The victims were elated to finally get recognition for the two, though resisted the rejection of the other three.

Yet KCOMWEL has brazenly taken a second step against the workers whom it is mandated to protect – it has decided to appeal to the upper (High) Court. The deadline to lodge its appeal was July 15, and it submitted its appeal on July 14, just one day before the deadline.

The decision of KCOMWEL to appeal did not go without opposition from the victims, with the solidarity of SHARPS (victims and activists in solidarity with Samsung and other electronics industry disease victims). From July 5 to 7, the victims and SHARPS conducted a sit-in struggle at KCOMWEL office building, demanding “DO NOT APPEAL!”

On Thursday, July 7, the victims met the Chairperson of KCOMWEL, who promised “I’ll do my best” to consider not appealing, but that the final decision was up to the Public Prosecutor. The victims relied on this, and decided to stop the sit-in struggle to wait for the decision.

On July 12, SHARPs and the victims asked for another appointment. At 1 p.m. that day they heard the news clearly that indeed, KCOMWEL had decided to appeal. Thus the victims and activists decided to resume their struggle – and planned for a press conference on Wednesday. There, they would change their demand to say that KCOMWEL must withdraw their decision to appeal; and to announce that they would also appeal the three lost cases.

Yet on July 12, Samsung announced that THEY would have a press conference, regarding the report which they commissioned the consultancy ENVIRON to conduct regarding cancer link in Samsung workers.

On July 13, the victims’ group including SHARPs proceeded with their press conference, despite the heavy rain, and demanded 1) KCOMWEL should withdraw its appeal, but also 2) ENVIRON, should make its report public and must guarantee that at least four people be present at the conference: one victim from SHARPS; one activist, one professional (such as doctor) and one politician or their staff.

Afterwards, a call came to Dr. Kong from Samsung side, saying that only Dr. Kong could attend the ENVIRON press conference. Finally after reminding them of SHARPS demand, they agreed to let one more professional attend.

July 13 – the Victims and SHARPS agreed that Dr. Kong and Dr. Do-myung Paek would go, although it was less than ideal.

But a shocking thing happened during the night. At 10 p.m. all the victims were still in the KCOMWEL building, camped out there, while activists were on the street in their makeshift tent in the rain. Three victims’ families were on the first floor, while two victims’ families (Hwang and Jeong) were on the 5th floor, where the Chairperson’s office is.

The victim Kim Ok-yee fell ill, just after the doors were locked. Probably it was overexhaustion. Han Hye-gyoung’s mother took her out.

In the building only two were then left, Hwang and Jeong (Ae-jung). Then a call came to Dr. Kong, 20 men had come in a great rush, to pull her and Mr Hwang out of the building physically by force, from the 5th floor, down the elevator, and out. They threw her out of the building in the pouring rain. She was utterly shocked and lay on the pavement in the rain, crying out. Everyone in the group all felt her shock, and really worried about her mental well-being.

Thursday, July 14

The victims’ group split into two groups. One group of Dr. Kong and Dr. Paek, had to go to the ENVIRON press conference. The transport was arranged by Samsung. The two offered to sit in the bus with the media – but Samsung would only offer a separate vehicle – i.e., preventing the two from sitting in a same vehicle as journalists! So they decided finally to refuse the idea of taking Samsung’s transportation which would intentionally separate them from the media; and instead they went by themselves, using their own transport (the car of Dr. Paek).

The other group of victims and activists in SHARPS met to discuss what to do. They decided to stop the sit-in struggle and have a press conference. With the heavy pouring rain on the activists outside and the violence that was done to the victims inside… they felt they needed to protect themselves also.


ENVIRON press conference on July 14
10 a.m.

The conference was arranged entirely by Samsung and ENVIRON.

In a huge conference room, there were more than 100 media, including AP and other international media.

The MC, Kim Joon-sik, the Communications Team (PR) leader of Samsung, gave an introduction with the background and goal of the event.

He said the intention was to reveal the facts accurately, and that the results of the study were global top level, and that Samsung could guarantee its objectivity and transparency. He said, “We tried to check by all scientific methods on the debate re: Samsung Semiconductors’ working environment,” and added “We make today’s event to keep our promise to reveal the results transparently.”

In fact the session was to be from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., with 40 minutes for presentation and 20 minutes for Q&A. Of the 40 minutes, however, 15-20 minutes were spent to show a PR video of ENVIRON, basically showing how great, big and excellent ENVIRON is, and what it has achieved.

The CEO of ENVIRON, Mr. Stephen T. Washburn, introduced the results of the study, gave an overview and summarized the findings. According to him, the general conclusions were basically these two:
1) occupational exposure in manufacturing areas, in the current working environment. By their evaluation, these were significantly below the norm levels developed by some agencies.
2) According to studies done in the past, they reconstructed the working environment and the exposure levels of workers under past working conditions, based on the evidence of six workers with cancer, to determine their level of occupational exposure to carcinogens – i.e., to assess the likelihood that workplace exposure of previous times did increase the risk of cancer in those six specific workers. By the evaluation of ENVIRON, the scientific data did not support a link between workplace exposure and the diagnosed cancers.

Those six workers are the victims who had joined in the lawsuit against Samsung. One had dropped out, which was Park Ji-yeon, after Samsung had offered them some payment.

At the press conference, no handout materials were given of the presentation, and no photos, no cameras and no recording of any kind was allowed. At the end, only Samsung’s press release material was given out – the same content which has been repeated in many papers and internet articles now, saying that the scientific evidence proved no relationship between the cancers and the Samsung workplace. Even the photos in the media articles, are all only what Samsung had provided. The presentation was also written in English, and all was spoken in English; although there was Korean translation, it was still fast, and the whole press conference did not show that Samsung was sincerely trying to share the information so that it could be well understood.

In SHARPs’ own press release later, they gave the following criticisms and queries:

1) Was the ENVIRON report even proper for meeting its own original goals? Was it precise? Was it transparent?
2) According to issues we have been debating:
a. Contents are too poor – could not even answer the previous debated issues: 1) “current workplace” – cannot discuss scientifically without seeing the scientific evidence and data. 2) “reconstruction of the past” is based on KOSHA, the government’s and Samsung’s data, all of which we know have many limitations and disputes. Yet this was the data that was re-used and formed the base of the conclusion.
b. The manner of presentation. Out of 40 minutes, 15 min. was for the video, and 3-4 minutes for introduction and so on. Moreover the plan for the press conference was announced only two days in advance – while SHARPS was still in the sit-in strike, and while there was only one day left until the deadline for appeal (deadline was July 15) by KCOMWEL.
c. Limiting the number of the most direct stakeholders – the victims. Only two from SHARPS were allowed – Dr. Kong and Dr. Paek. They requested Samsung to share the presentation information beforehand, but even after the presentation, it was not shared.
3) The deception. Kwon O-hyun, CEO of Samsung Electronics DS (which includes both the semiconductor and LCD businesses) said he requested civil society organizations several times to attend, but they refused. Dr. Kong wants to ask: when, and which organizations did you ask?

Thus, we would like to know: what was the real purpose of this event? It was not to reveal, but to hide, facts. 1) the presentation was neither independent nor transparent, and 2) ENVIRON is known to have been paid by Philip Morris in 2009 to do a study, and 2010, M. Gough…

4) Samsung has a strong will to appeal. So what can we conclude?

The Samsung legal team leader says, this ENVIRON report is not related to the lawsuit. Yet Kwon O-hyun, CEO will focus on the scientific and medical, legal and causal relationship (between workplace and illness) in the next lawsuit. And the legal team leader said the position of Samsung as reference for the defendant KCOMWEL will be kept automatically without any specific demand. Thus the lawyers are working for the interest of the company, not of KCOMWEL. They have been working to prevent compensation.

And why THEN (the timing)? I.e., why did this press conference only happen on this date_ KCOMWEL has been pressured by SHARPS and victims, and also visited by several lawmakers. They must, but cannot, overcome the victims and political parties. At the same time, KCOMWEL got pressure from Samsung. Thus Samsung is tacitly saying: Brother KCOMWEL, we will support all the process, like before. I have “scientific’ support”, so KCOMWEL, go ahead and appeal!

Samsung has said that it provides medical support for employees, and will expand support even for resigned workers who are found to be ill. This is typical of the two ways Samsung avoids its responsibility for the health of its workers: 1) moral hazard (using influence over government agency KCOMWEL) and 2) give directly to victims.

Actually KCOMWEL should give out compensation, even without ‘evidence beyond a doubt’ of disease link. It is Samsung (and corporations generally) that wishes to force the standard of evidence to be so high, that just compensation of victims would be placed beyond their reach – leaving the company to continue endangering and killing its workers by neglect, year after year.

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