SHARPS marked Semiconductor Day, the industry’s anniversary celebrating its first annual exports in 1994 of U$ 10 billion in memory chips, on Oct 29 with protests and a round of petitions for worker compensation for seven workers who contracted occupational diseases while working in semiconductor labs.
Among the seven petitioners, four are former employees of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. or its spinoffs and the remaining three individuals were employed at SK Hynix Inc. and a contractor of LG Electronics, Inc. The spread of the illnesses demonstrate the widespread occupational hazards in the electronic components industry of South Korea.
The Old and The New: The Same Tragedy
The youngest and the latest victim is Cho Eun-ju, who died of Myelodysplastic syndromes, a set of bone marrow disorders, at the age of 22 in 2015, only two years after diagnosis. She began to work at Samsung Electronics’ LCD display unit in July 2010, about seven months before her high school graduation.
In the three years leading to her diagnosis in Sept. 2013, Ms. Cho cleaned defective circuits with chemicals, a job that often required her to crawl under the equipment. In 2012, Samsung Electronics spun off the LCD display unit. Ms. Cho’s tragedy showed that working conditions had little changed although the separation made the unit the world’s largest LCD maker.
Lee Kyung-beum, 45 years old, the oldest petitioner, has a history in the same mold as Ms. Cho—but in a longer time-span. Upon graduating high school, in 1986-1991, Ms. Lee manually removed photoresist with an etching solution in a Samsung lab limned with chemical smells. In 2003, she was diagnosed with high-grade osteosarcoma in the brain. It is extremely unusual for this rare bone cancer to develop in a brain.
Spoiling Their Party
The new petitions show that the occupational disease crisis is still ongoing at Samsung and in the industry. Also, the repeat of the same individual tragedy exposes Samsung’s disregard for labor rights and unwillingness to self-inspect worker safety, highlighting the need for independently verifiable safety measures.
After filing the workers com petitions, SHARPS activists mounted pickets and performances in front of Seoul’s COEX, the venue for a ceremony for Semiconductor Day, urging Samsung and other industry leaders to act for worker safety.
As of Oct. 2015, SHARPS has profiled a total of 366 occupational-disease victims of the semiconductor industry. Among them, 297 were employed with Samsung. Out of the 366, 133 victims have died, and among the 133 deaths, 109 are former Samsung employees.