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
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.