Another young worker has been hospitalized for acute methanol poisoning she suffered at a subcontractor of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., the South Korean government confirmed on Feb. 26. The worker, a woman in her twenties, is the fifth victim of gasified methanol poisoning. She is now in a coma.
All these victims were temporary workers who became exposed in two months’ time to gasified methanol, residues of which they attempted to remove from the surfaces of mobile-phone components for Samsung and LG Electronics. All five victims were hired on a short-term basis of two or six months, a banned but widely accepted labor practice in South Korea’s manufacturing sector. None of them were provided with basic protective gear, such as goggles.
The latest victim, whose full identity is being withheld from release, was poisoned at a different Samsung contractor than the small factory where the other four workers are now at the same risk of blindness, after doing the same job in the same city, Bucheon, about 25 kilometers south of Seoul.
She worked twelve-hour days and often took one day off a month from a workshop where methanol density was up to 2,220 ppm, about ten times higher than the country’s legal maximum.
What is so shocking is that she was poisoned while the ministry of employment and labor was conducting safety inspections of about 5,900 workplaces nationwide where gasified methanol is in use, following the poisoning of the first four victims. Her employer hid methanol when an inspection was underway at her workplace.
Coupled with the government’s poor oversight, the fact that all victims are hired on a temporary basis suggests it would be difficult to determine how many workers were exposed to the hazardous material in the city of Bucheon, a cluster of mobile-device parts contractors.
On Feb. 16, the government approved workers compensation for two of the five victims—a rare judgment in favor of temporary workers.
Passing Cost and Risk On To Contractors.
Ruthless attempts by Samsung to pass cost and risk on to its contractors were the catalyst for the tragedies of the four young workers. Both workplaces are subcontractors of Samsung, which allows contractors to outsource their jobs with little in the way of safety measures.
The world’s largest technology company does not make a single reference to labor practices of its supply lines in its brief code of code of conduct.
From workplace-accident first response to warranty repair, Samsung relies on an army of contractors and subcontractors which brutally cut costs to the point of threatening workers’ livelihood and safety.
The five victims earned KRW 5,700, or U$4.71, an hour while the employers selected methanol over ethanol for its production practices, which is more hazardous than but half the price of ethanol.