A young male worker has died from the effects of a rare blood disorder, after almost four years of routine night-shift work, overtime and chemical exposure at a Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. supplier with extended-family ties to the tech giant’s founding family.
Long Hours With Unknown Chemicals
The 32-year-old worker, Yi Chang-oun died on Aug. 3, about nine months after his diagnosis with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Between January 2012 and October 2015, Yi mixed chemicals unknown to him to make cleaners and moisture-proof insulators at the Wanju plant of Hansol Chemical Co., Ltd. for Samsung’s organic light-emitting diode operations in China.
Over the 45 months, Yi often worked the night shift. He routinely worked more than 12 hours a day and more than 100 hours of overtime a month, Yi said in a letter to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
Hansol Chemical did not give him a single safety education session although Yi was exposed to a variety of chemicals on the job. Chemicals often splattered onto his bare skin and eyes. He had to inhale chemical fumes because the workshop’s poor ventilation system always sputtered.
In 2015, Yi was diagnosed with the acute blood cancer. In April 2016, with the help of the KCTU and SHARPS, he filed a petition for workers compensation. An epidemiological investigation is still pending.
Yi is survived by his wife and three children.
It has yet to be determined whether his chemical exposure has directly caused the Hansol worker the acute blood disorder. However, SHARPS has to date profiled about 400 electronics workers diagnosed with leukemia, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis.
Lee Jae-yong, Vice Chairman and the heir apparent of Samsung, (left) and Cho Yeon-joo, executive director and de facto owner of Hanson Chemical, (right) are cousins.
Lee Jae-yong’s Samsung and His Cousin’s Hansol
Hansol Chemical, part of Hansol Group and a spin-off from Samsung Group, is effectively controlled by Cho Yeon-joo, the 37-year-old executive director who is cousin to Lee Jae-yong, the heir apparent of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
Hansol Chemical was a mediocre chemicals maker until 2014, since when it began to supply large volumes of chemical components to Samsung. For fiscal 2015, Hansol Chemical posted a 73.7 percent increase in operating income, the leap market commentators aptly termed “Samsung effect.”
For Yi and his co-workers, “Samsung effect” is just deadly. Samsung has been outsourcing not only chemicals but also risk to Hansol, which has to date shown little willingness to improve workers safety at its plants.
As of this posting, neither Samsung nor Hansol has released a statement on Yi’s death.
SHARPS’s Sit-in: 300 Days And Still Counting
Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to:
1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and
2) make a sincere and full apology.
*On Aug. 3, 2016, this post was updated to better describe SHARPS’ demands.