Archive for February, 2016


At an information session on Feb. 16 called by foreign correspondents in Seoul, Hwang Sang-ki (second from the left) sat two seats away from Samsung spokesman Baik Soo-ha (second from the right) who, at the session, lied about Hwang’s daughter Yumi, a victim of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster.

The world’s largest technology firm by revenue continues to shift the blame to victims of its occupational disease cluster and to play off them one against another, in a move to move the cluster crisis out of public focus.

At a Feb 16th media workshop on the cluster called by the Seoul chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, a spokesman of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. lowered himself to brandishing a photocopy of a journal by a victim as if evidence for Samsung’s safety education for workers.

The journal is belonged to Hwang Yu-mi, a Samsung semiconductor-lab operator who died of leukemia at the age of 21 in 2007.  A hard-working employee, the late Hwang detailed her work experience in the journal, which later her father Hwang Sang-ki, a founder of SHARPS, used to build a case against Samsung.  No parts of her journal indicate that Samsung provided safety education to employees.

Taxi Driver Versus Samsung’s Mouthpiece

When Samsung spokesman Baik Soo-ha flaunted the late Ms. Hwang’s journal to lie blatantly, her father, Mr. Hwang, also a speaker at the workshop, was seated two seats apart from Mr. Baik on the same platform.

The AAJS invited all parties, from Samsung to SHARPS to the Family Settlement Committee, to the event.  Samsung representatives attended it on condition that they would not share the platform with any advocates.  The result:  Mr. Hwang, a taxi driver, and Kim Si-nyeo, a homemaker and mother of a brain tumor-affected Han Hye-Kyoung, had to take on Mr. Baik, a TV journalist-turned Samsung mouthpiece, at a rare information session on Samsung’s cluster joined by tens of international correspondents based in Seoul.

Mean Attack

In this skewed setting, the Samsung spokesman took the offensive, questioning the veracity of the 223 cluster victims SHARPS has to date profiled.  Mr. Baik cited SHARPS has not fully disclosed their identities.

SHARPS does not disclose a victim’s identity unless he/she consents to not only protect his/her privacy and but also shield him/her from Samsung’s attempts at intimidation and buy-offs.

There is ample such evidence.  In 2010, the mother of Park Ji-yeon, a 23-year-old female Samsung employee who died of acute bone cancer, said she withdrew an administrative lawsuit for workers compensation after Samsung promised her to pay her KRW 400 million (U$326 thousand), independent weekly Hankyoreh 21 reported.


Huh Jae-hyun, of Hankyoreh 21, interviewed the mother of Park Ji-yeon, a 23-year-old female victim of Samsung’s cluster.  The company paid her KRW 400 million as she withdrew a lawsuit for workers compensation.  The news magazine pixelated her face at her request. Source: Hankyoreh 21

Deposited After Cremation 

Ms. Park’s family initially demanded KRW 1 billion (U$816 thousand) but Samsung haggled it down to 40% the request, according to the news weekly.  The company deposited the hush money to the mother’s account after the daughter’s body was cremated.

She used the money to pay off debt that had ballooned to cover Ms. Park’s medical expenses.  “I felt vain after paying debt,” said Ms. Park’s mother, identified only by her last name Hwang (no relation to Hwang Yu-mi).  She went on to explain, “My family was used by Samsung.  Samsung covered up my child’s death.”

Also, in Jan. 2011, a news show of the Korea Broadcasting System aired footage, secretly taken by Hwang Sang-ki, of Samsung managers attempting to give Mr. Hwang what they called consolation money.

How Many Are Dying and Died

Mr. Baik’s questioning of SHARPS’s data is ludicrous, even given his own admission that about 140 victims are now seeking compensation under Samsung’s own compensation scheme.   All these offer a glimpse of the depths of Samsung’s cluster, highlighting the likelihood that the number of victims is higher than SHARPS’s own data.

Then, the real issue: Samsung still attempts to hinder victims and their advocates from collecting data, making it very difficult to assess how many have died, are dying, or will die because of its negligence.

Receipt or Settlement

“A victim who suffers from cancer has medical bills running up to KRW 100 million (U$816 thousand),” said Mr. Hwang at the workshop, citing anonymous sources.  “Samsung demanded the victim sign a settlement of KRW 30 million (U$24 thousand) when he applied for compensation.”

It is also revealed that the company demanded compensation applicants sign a settlement agreement, a copy of which it does not provide them. Nor does it allow the applicants to photograph the document.  When asked why Samsung does not provide a copy of the settlement to the victims, Mr. Baik answered, “The term ‘settlement’ is a misnomer because it is a receipt.”

“You don’t photocopy receipts to give them,” Samsung’s mouthpiece quipped.

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Four workers of Samsung’s supplier are now at risk of vision loss due to exposure to high-density methanol.

An ongoing attempt by Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. to outsource risk to an army of smaller contractors has proven dangerous as four workers are now at risk of losing vision due to exposure to gasified methanol while on the job.

The four workers, all temporary employees in their twenties at a Samsung supplier, suffered irreversible vision impairment after using high-density gasified methanol as coolant while edging aluminum clad circuits for smartphones, according to Solidarity For Workers’ Health, a Seoul-based advocacy group.  The employer did not provide even basic protective gear such as gloves.

Due to legal considerations, the advocate did not disclose the name of the employer, which is a subcontractor of one of Samsung’s army of outsourcers.  Nor did the Ministry of Employment and Labor, which on Feb. 5 said it has suspended the operations of the contractor in the city of Bucheon, about 25 kilometers south of Seoul.

Illegal Outsourcing and Low Wages

Two of the four victims, a man and the only woman, both 29 years old, are now at risk of complete blindness.  A 25-year-old victim has lost vision in the left eye and impaired in the right.  A 20-year-old victim has yet to be fully diagnosed for acute vision loss.

All four victims were employed on a short-term basis of about six months–an outlawed practice increasingly flouted by employers as the government has been stepping up efforts to repeal the ban on short-term outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.

The victims got the jobs through daily laborer agencies and earned about  5,700 won, or U$4.71, an hour,  about a dime higher than the country’s mandated minimum wage of 5,580 won, U$4.61–compared with South Korea’s per capita GDP of U$24,565.

Outsourcing Risk; Shirking Responsibility 

For Samsung, outsourcing is not just about cost rationalization.  Rather, it is more about shirking corporate responsibility by outsourcing risk.

The world’s largest technology company even outsources first response for worksite accidents.  In Jan. 2013 when two separate incidents left one worker dead and four injured at Samsung’s semiconductor plant, it turned out that the company hired an outside first-response firm which in turn outsourced jobs to a smaller contractor.

Samsung outsources maintenance and repair services to a loose network of contractors where working conditions are so harsh that a few workers have committed suicide in protest.  From Brazil, to China, to Korea, Samsung’s supply chain is riddled with abuse and misconduct.


Samsung uses outsourcing to shirk corporate responsibility. The company even outsources first response for industrial accidents.  In 2013, two separate gas leaks left one worker dead and four injured at its semiconductor lab.

It is not that there is little Samsung can do about outsourcers’ labor practices.  The opposite is true:  the company can exert substantial influence on the way its supply chain functions.  For instance, last year, prodded by the government to help address youth unemployment, Samsung introduced a so-called “stepping stone jobs initiative” under which it will literally farm 3,000 new hires through its contractors after three months of job training for which it will pay.

Samsung has strong sway on the supply chain, for which it has ultimate responsibility.

Samsung Continues To Dodge

SHARPS has been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s headquarters in south Seoul since Oct. 7, 2015.

After eight years of a fierce campaign by the advocacy group, on Jan. 17, Samsung finally made its first meaningful concession and agreed to an “ombudsman system” to make recommendations in the next there years to Samsung regarding worker safety measures.  However, it still refuses to compensate all occupational disease victims fully and transparently.  Worse, the company still rejects an independently verifiable monitoring system.

The South Korean government appears to be an enabler of Samsung’s ongoing negligence.  To date, the Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service has, only after long clerical and court campaigns, approved only four of the 74 petitions filed by victims with help from SHARPS.

In a rare victory for cluster victims, on Jan. 29, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of a petition by Lee Eun-joo, who died of ovarian cancer in 2012 after more than ten years of suffering.  Ms. Lee was diagnosed with the cancer after six years of gluing together silicon wafers with formaldehyde lead at a Samsung lab where she began to work at the age of 17.


In a rare legal victory for Samsung-cluster victims, in January, South Korea’s court ruled in favor of workers compensation for Lee Eun-joo, a former Samsung worker, who died of ovarian cancer in 2012.

Emboldened: Benign or Malignant   

After playing off victims against one another with the lure of quick compensation, Samsung has emerged emboldened and began to turn away some victims who are willingly complying with the company’s confidentiality request to receive token compensation.


The gate of Gunsan Girls Commercial High School in the city of Gunsan, where Samsung recruited busloads of graduates in the 1990s. At least four of such recruits have since been diagnosed with some form of cancer.


According to Media Today, Samsung turned down a compensation application by Park Soo-youn (pseudonym),  35 years old, citing her brain tumors were not malignant—despite the fact she now suffers from an incurable occulosympathetic palsy as a result of craniotomy.  Ms. Park was among the graduates of Gunsan Girls Commercial High School, from whom Samsung recruited in busloads for chip manufacturing in the 1990s. In 1999, she began to work at the Kiheung plant of Samsung, where she used bare hands to clean machinery and floors with chemicals unknown to her.  In 2001, she saved enough to study music at college.  By 2009, she became completely bedridden for her “benign tumors.”

To add salt to the wounds, a Samsung handler contacted Ms. Lee’s family after rejecting her application to wire 40,000 won, or U$32, as a reimbursement for the expenses.



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