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Archive for August, 2012

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In an interview with ZDF’s Frontal21, Kim Soo-geun, director of Samsung Health Research Institute, said: “I cannot speak any foreign languages. You have to speak really good English to be able to understand American scientists and to influence them.”

On Aug. 14, Frontal21, the flagship news show of German public broadcasting company ZDF ran a segment on Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. employees who have fallen victim to a variety of blood disorders, and the inaction of the world’s largest electronics maker.

The six-minute segment includes interviews of a SHARPS organizer, Samsung blood-disorder victims, their families and a Samsung executive. 

In the interview, Kong Jeong-ok, the medical doctor with SHARPS, said of the Samsung victims: “They do not want money.  They want justice.”  

Han Hye-kyoung, a former Samsung worker, now partially paralyzed and verbally impaired after brain tumors, stammered through her testimony of how she was continually exposed to chemicals while working at Samsung.     

In 2011, Samsung commissioned Environ International, the U.S. environmental and workplace safety consultancy that frequently represents the tobacco industry, to conduct a study of workplace exposure control measures.  Without disclosing the data it used in the study, the consultancy concluded that there is non-causality between blood-disorder clusters at Samsung and its working conditions.

Samsung’s denial of the existence of cancer clusters at its semiconductor and LCD factories continues unabated.

When asked by Frontal21 whether Samsung could influence or deceive Environ, Kim Soo-geun, director of Samsung Health Research Institute, the electronics maker’s safety research arm, answered, “I cannot speak any foreign languages.  You have to speak really good English to be able to understand American scientists and to influence them.”  

Kim’s petulance is typical of Samsung in handling labor and CSR issues. 

The following is the English translation of a Web summary of the Frontal21 report [all brackets and Web links are added]:

Dying After Working At Samsung

South Korea’s Conglomerate Refuses to Take Responsibility

Samsung Group of South Korea is facing serious allegations: its former employees have died after growing ill while working at Samsung.  The causes of their deaths are due to carcinogenic chemicals, to which the victims became exposed while employed at Samsung factories.

The accusations are leveled by SHARPS, the advocacy group for the victims.  The lack of safety meant that some 150 former employees, most of them at a young age, were affected by leukemia, lymphoma or multiple sclerosis.  And 56 died prematurely.  According to SHARPS, many of them were employed at semiconductor factories and others at LCD labs.  For many years, the victims and their bereaved families have been calling on Samsung to admit that the sicknesses were work-related.

In an interview with Frontal21, Kim Soo-Geun, director of Samsung Health Research Institute, denies any such connections.  He said, “Carcinogens such as benzene are unlikely to be a part of [semiconductor] production.”  His remarks contradicted the findings of an independent study by Seoul National University scientists.  “Benzene was detected at Samsung.  What is also missing [at Samsung] is professional management, which would have enabled Samsung to measure chemicals used in the supply chain,” said [Seoul National University] professor Park Do-myung in an interview with Frontal21.

Samsung Does Not Want To Know

Last year, the Seoul administrative court ruled in favor of [a request for workers compensation by] the father of Hwang Yumi, a Samsung worker who died at the age of 21 of leukemia.  “She became sick because she was exposed to various toxic chemical while on her job,” the court said.  However, Samsung does not want to know [about it].  “Cancer is a frequent disease, with or without specific triggers,” said director Kim in the interview. Why [should] I believe this cancer could not be avoided?”

In 2011, Samsung Group posted 16 billion euros in earnings.  Even in Germany, telephones, TVs and other electronic devices from Samsung are very popular.  According to industrial surveys, Samsung smartphones are now more popular than Apple’s iPhone.  Almost 25 percent of smartphone users have Samsung smartphones.

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Young workers at HEG Electronics (Huizhou), Samsung’s Chinese contractor.

HEG Electronics (Huizhou), a Chinese contractor that assembles devices for Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd hired underage workers at its production facilities, according to a preliminary survey released on August 7 by China Labor Watch, a New York-based Chinese labor rights advocacy group.

Samsung’s Chinese partner forced the young workers to work the same excessive hours in the same harsh conditions, said the New York rights watchdog, while paying them 30 percent less than their adult colleagues. On the assembly lines for Samsung devices, workers, underage and adult alike, had to work standing for more than 11 hours a day.  On top of that they are only given a 40-minute break for meals, said the survey.  There are 28 discipline points that lead to management levying hefty penalties against the young workers who make an average of $1.27-$1.08 per hour.

In the survey it covertly conducted in June and July, CLW profiled seven child workers ranging in age from 14 to 16 and estimated that at least 50-100 child workers were employed on HEG/Samsung production lines.  HEG management was aware of the clear violations of local labor regulation in employing children and made attempts at covering them up.

Many underage workers worked as seasonally hired “interns.”  For student workers, there are no formal contracts, nor age verification.  School teachers helped forge documents or vouched for the underage hires to “serve their own interests,” according the survey.  Even after HEG managers discovered that some of its workers were underage, they continued to employ the children, and moved them to a rented dormitory outside the factory to hide them from outside inspection.

Indeed, HEG depends heavily on a cheap labor pool from local vocational schools for churning out DVDs, stereo systems, and MP3 players for Samsung.  During summer and winter vacations, 80 percent of its 2,000-strong workforce is students and 60% during the non-season.

Samsung provides fixed assets and other equipment to the Chinese contractor, the survey said.  More than 50 Samsung employees are posted to HEG production facilities.

However, Samsung pleaded ignorance of child labor at its Chinese contractor.  “Samsung Electronics has conducted two separate on-site inspections on HEG’s working conditions this year but found no irregularities on those occasions,” Nam Ki Yung, a Samsung spokesman, told Bloomberg News.  Samsung said it would send an investigation team to HEC, according to a tech news site, The Verge.

According to CLW, Samsung uses Intertek as its outside CSR auditor for contractors and suppliers.  CLW discredits Intertek’s trustworthiness, pointing to the fact that its inspectors took briberies from Chinese contractors.

Whether Intertek has audited HEG for Samsung in the past is unknown.  However, in 2011, in a move to dodge pressure from SHARPS and other labor advocates, Samsung commissioned Environ, a pro-business technical consultancy, to prove the lack of causality between the leukemia clusters at is semiconductor facilities and their working conditions.  Samsung did not provide reliable and comprehensive data.

Founded in 2000, CLW is an independent not-for-profit organization.  In 2010, CLW published reports on safety-lapse-caused explosions and a series of suicides by employees at Foxconn, the Chinese/Taiwanese contractor of Apple Inc.

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