Neither Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, nor the South Korean government, has taken meaningful action since February 2016 when gasified methanol put five workers at risk of vision loss at the company’s two subcontractors, YN Tech and VN Tech, in the city of Bucheon, The Voice Of The People, the country’s independent news website reported May 26.
Samsung Looks The Other Way
In the past four months, Samsung has not even issued a short press statement on the five victims.
The world’s largest technology company did not just outsource high-risk jobs—it looked the other way when these jobs were outsourced again to smaller contractors who depend almost entirely on temporary hires. Although widely flouted, it is against the law in South Korea to hire people in manufacturing positions on a temporary basis.
There is little evidence that Samsung has reconsidered this illegal labor practice even after press reports on the five victims.
The government has not begun a criminal investigation into the exposure—despite the fact that the Samsung contractors, while violating the law, inflicted irreversible physical harm on the workers.
12 Hours A Day, $4.71 An Hour
The victims–one woman and four men in their 20s–landed the jobs through temporary-job recruiters. Although they worked at two separate subcontractors, the victims shared similar work patterns and hours.
They worked twelve hours a day, rotating night and day shifts every two weeks. In a country with per-capital GDP of $26,000, the five victims earned KRW 5,700, or U$4.71, an hour while the employers selected methanol over ethanol, which is more hazardous but one-third the price.
They used air-guns to remove methanol residues on smartphone clad circuits. The splattering residue assailed their eyes. The only protective gear given to them was a pair of cotton gloves and a cotton mask. Ventilation was poor. No explanation was given on the dangers of methanol. According to the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Administration, methanol density was up to 2,220 ppm, about ten times higher than the country’s legal limit, in six areas of YN Tech.
Samsung Evades Lawsuit
In April 2106, activist lawyers group Minbyun, also known as Lawyers For a Democratic Society, filed a damages lawsuit on behalf of three of the five victims against their temp agencies, the two Samsung subcontractors YN Tech and VN Tech, and the government. The lawyers and victims have yet to finalize the amount of the damages.
Samsung is not named in the lawsuit because under current law, an employer is not technically liable for the jobs that are subcontracted out after being outsourced.
The UN Intervenes?
A team of investors from the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, part of the UN High Commissioner For Human Rights, is now investigating the methanol exposure, reported the Voice of The People, and will have a press conference in early June.
SHARPS’s Sit-in Continues
Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:
1) institute a permanent, independently verifiable safety program;
2) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and
3) make a sincere and full apology.
*** Update at 10:40 pm EST: This post was revised for better clarity (all changes are in italics).