SHARPS and its supporters began a sit-in in front of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s corporate headquarters in central Seoul on Oct. 7 as the world’s largest technology company said it would put negotiations with an arbitration body aimed at finalizing demands by victims of the company’s occupational disease cluster on hold until further notice.
“There is a lot of disagreement between Samsung and SHARPS,” Baek Soo-hyun <Korean>, Samsung’s top negotiator, told Media Today <Korean> after talks with the Mediation Committee and SHARPS ended that day. “SHARPS demanded the 15-point recommendation by the Committee be revised and asked us for an additional financial commitment of KRW 15 billion a year.”
Shifting The Blame
Samsung was shifting the blame to SHARPS. The purpose of the talks was to further refine the Committee’s recommendations. Most egregiously, on Sept. 18, the company circumvented the arbitration process and launched its own compensation framework within criteria much watered down from the Committee’s recommendations.
Points of Contention
There are two major points of contention between Samsung and SHARPS. First, Samsung said it would set aside KRW 100 billion (U$1 billion) for victim reparations. However, that amount alone is unlikely sufficient to compensate even only the 293 victims profiled by SHARPS—and those yet-unaccounted for. And second, Samsung remains adamant against instituting a publicly verifiable audit and inspection system for worker safety.
After scuppering the negotiations, Samsung appears intent on paying its way out of the occupational disease crisis by offering some victims token compensation. This would be a feasible plan because Samsung could potentially exploit divisions in the campaign to undermine SHARPS and delude the public.
Over almost a decade, mountainous medical and legal bills have financially sunk already-needy victims of the Samsung cluster. In August 2014, a year into SHARPS’ negotiations with Samsung, some of these victims formed a separate negotiation bloc called the Family Settlement Committee, to seek quick payouts from Samsung. In September, some of the Settlement Committee received their first payouts from Samsung, according to a media report. <Korean>
The Settlement Committee was absent from the last talks with the Mediation Committee although it first proposed the formation of an independent arbitration body.