Dozens of sustainability activists and labor-rights advocates from across the globe rallied at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s headquarters in Seoul on June 20th, protesting inaction by the world’s largest electronics maker toward the occupational disease crisis at its plants.
About thirty international activists, who just wrapped up a three-day conference called Global Meeting on a Sustainable Electronics Industry, joined pickets mounted by bereaved families of the workers who died of a variety of blood disorders which they allegedly contracted during employment with Samsung Electronics and its subsidiaries.
Activists from the U.S., China, Indonesia, Mexico and other nations carried pickets written in their native languages. “We Want Green Phones, Not Killer Phones,” one English picket read. “No More Deaths at Samsung,” read a sign in Spanish.
“During the past three days [of the conference] we have come to better understand that electronics workers are facing similar issues globally, against electronics giants,” Lee Jong-ran, a certified labor attorney with SHARPS, said, emphasizing the need for international solidarity. “There was an outbreak of occupational disease at IBM factories in the Silicon Valley in the 1980s. The same outbreak is now taking place at Samsung, and it will be likely happening in other parts of the world. ”
“[At the conference] we made a resolution to spread the word to every part of the world about the horrid march of death unfolding at Samsung,” she concluded.
A sudden summer rain did not dampen the spirits of solidarity . “I wish for the agonies of Samsung victims to go away, and for the tears of their families to dry, just like a rain that has just come and gone,” Kong Jeong-ok, an MD with SHARPS, said in a voice choked with grief.
In related development, on June 19, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, an independent government human rights watchdog, filed a non-binding request with the South Korean government, calling for the Ministry of Employment and Labor to require employers to prove non-causality between employees’ working conditions and their diseases in order to deny requests for workers compensation.
Global Meeting on a Sustainable Electronics Industry took place outside Seoul on June 18-20, joined by representatives of more than thirty-six activist groups from ten countries.
SHARPS, Asia Monitoring Resource Centre of Hong Kong, Citizen of The Earth Taiwan, Good Electronics and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology jointly hosted the conference.
As of March 2012, SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia after employment in the electronics industry in South Korea.
As of June 2, 2012, of the 155, 63 have died. The majority of the workers, 138, were employed at Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics and Samsung SDS—the three electronics affiliates of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate. Among the 63 deaths were 56 Samsung employees.