In an unusual break from a usual diplomatic tone, a UN hazardous chemicals expert has criticized South Korean media for glossing over his report on Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and its occupational-disease cluster.
A series of South Korea’s media reports downplayed UN Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak’s report on the country when they said he did not turn up any evidence tying Samsung’s working conditions with the diseases and disabilities of its workers, said the human rights and hazardous substances and wastes expert, in an op-ed on Sept. 19 for the independent daily Hankyoreh.
“Certain recent media articles [in South Korea] grossly misrepresent my report as not finding evidence that working conditions at Samsung Electronics led to diseases or disabilities among former workers,” said Mr. Tuncak. “Based on my conversations with companies, the government, scientists, attorneys, mediators and victims, this is far from the truth.”
The opening salvo of the fusillade of false reports was fired on the Sunday evening of Sept. 11 by Yonhap News, the country’s publicly chartered news agency which has little reason to kowtow to Samsung, its largest corporate ad buyer, but often does nevertheless.
The Yonhap dispatch was quickly rehashed and distributed by more than thirty news outlets.
While there is no evidence of direct corporate involvement, the dissemination of the falsified report fit the usual pattern by Samsung of spinning the news: the conglomerate often puts out negative or even false news over weekends to have news outlets release it without fact-checking.
On Sept. 16, Mr. Tuncak, a lawyer and a chemist, made a presentation based on his report at the 33rd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The 24-page report, dated Aug. 3, delineated a wide range of topics from the Samsung cluster to the Oxy Reckitt Benckiser disinfectant scandal. The following are highlights on Samsung:
- On Samsung’s refusal to disclose chemicals used during employment of the cluster victims. “The Special Rapporteur reiterates that, under international laws, global policy frameworks and national law, health and safety information on hazardous substances should not be confidential.”
- On the government’s inaction. “Apart from these investigations and the industrial accident compensation insurance scheme, the Special Rapporteur notes a surprisingly low level of action taken by the Government, the primary duty bearer when it comes to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of workers and of victims to an effective remedy.”
- On the Ombudsman Committee to monitor Samsung’s safety efforts. “The Special Rapporteur welcomes the establishment of the Ombudsman Committee, and looks forward to its implementation with both transparency and meaningful public participation by all stakeholders.”
- On the transparency of compensation. “The Special Rapporteur understands there are concerns regarding how the compensation process adhered to the recommendations of the Mediation Committee and encourages all parties to increase transparency and participation in this regard.”
- On the burden of proving the work-relatedness of illnesses. “The causal relationship need not be proven medically or scientifically but can be inferred from the consideration of various situational factors. Consideration of all the circumstances, such as the health of the worker at the time of employment, possible explanations for the disease, whether any hazardous substances existed in the workplace and the amount of time the worker spent in the workplace, makes possible the conclusion that there is a proximate causal relationship between the worker’s duties and the disease.”
SHARPS Goes To Geneva
Kwon Young-eun, SHARPS’s full-time organizer, partook in the UN Human Rights Council. On Sept. 14, joined by other activists from NGOS in South Korea, she mounted a street performance on the cluster victims. On Sept. 16, SHARPS co-hosted a side session on chemical hazards caused by multinationals in Asia, where Mr. Tuncak also spoke.
SHARPS’s Sit-in To Mark One-Year Milestone
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.