The South Korean government agency responsible for workers compensation has retained a medical doctor associated with a Samsung-owned hospital to evaluate a petition for workers comp filed by the family of a young female worker who died of a blood disease inflicted on her while employed at a Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. assembly line, SHARPS said in a press release on May 29, 2013.
All Samsung’s Men
After a hung vote by its six-member evaluation committee, the Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service (KCOMWEL) on May 27 rejected the petition filed by the family of Yun Seul-ki, who died at the age of 32 of aplastic anemia in June of last year, thirteen years after she first developed the fatal condition. The professional committee included a doctor from Kangbuk Samsung Hospital, part of conglomerate Samsung Group’s medical franchise. The government body had not disclosed his presence on the committee, depriving Yun’s family of an opportunity to formally challenge the impartiality of the committee’s evaluations.
At the beginning of its first meeting on April 12, a member of the committee took issue with the Samsung doctor’s presence, the committee member told SHARPS on the condition of anonymity. However, the chair of the committee continued with the meeting, after saying the doctor’s presence did not conflict with KCOMWEL regulations, the anonymous source added.
Yun’s family and SHARPS appealed the KCOMWEL’s decision.
Her First Job
In November 1999, only into five months on her first post-high school job, Yun passed out on the floor of the Samsung plant in the city of Chonan. The then-18-year-old Yun had been cutting chemically glazed liquid crystal display (LCD) panels. There was little protective gear. With bare eyes, she inspected the panels for cracks. Her hands were protected only by thin cotton gloves when she cut chemically drenched LCD panels in a “cleanroom” filled with chemical odors. She is the 56th victim who died of a variety of blood disorders at Samsung.
Since December 1999 when she was asked to leave the job after being diagnosed with aplastic anemia, Yun survived on frequent blood transfusions. Mounting medical bills not only exhausted her family’s already meager finances but also diminished her chance to find a bone marrow donor. By the time Yun died, she and her mother was living on $400-a-month government handouts for poor households.
Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. is South Korea’s largest conglomerate, Samsung Group’s 80 affiliates in all major industries ranging from automobiles to electronics to financial services. Samsung Group, controlled by second-generation founder Lee Kun-hee and his children, also owns colleges and universities through its nonprofit vehicles. Samsung’s tentacles have reached to the government and bureaucracy. The world had a sneak peek into how Samsung runs a vast network of bribery in November 2007, when Samsung Group’s former in-house lawyer Kim Yong-cheol accused the conglomerate of operating a slush fund to bribe prosecutors, politicians, and bureaucrats, to curry favor and quash probes into its frequent irregularities.
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, 63 of the 155 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. Among the 63 deaths were 56 Samsung employees.