Archive for May, 2018


Kim Do-hyun, Samsung executive-turned ambassador to Vietnam:  “Ambassadors must serve from a corporate perspective.”  Source:  Internet capture



A Samsung executive has been named the Republic of Korea’s ambassador to Vietnam—yet another controversial move by the reform-minded Moon Jae-in government elected a year ago on a pledge to address labor issues at Samsung and the other big conglomerates known as chaebol.

Conflict of Interest

On April 29, the government named Kim Do-hyun, a Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. executive responsible for smartphone sales in Europe, to be ambassador to Vietnam, conflating public and corporate interests—in Vietnam, the Samsung conglomerate is the largest foreign employer responsible for more than 20 percent of GDP and more than 25 percent of exports , according to the Hanoi office of Korea International Trade Association, a business lobby.

Expanding at Breakneck Speed

Since 2013, Samsung Electronics and other affiliates of Samsung Group have been aggressively expanding in the southeastern country.  In 2013 alone, Samsung Electronics hired 20,000 female assemblers right out of high school for cell and smart phones.  By 2015, at their peak, Samsung’s two smartphone assembly plants, on average, hired more than 2,000 new workers a week.

What made the rapid expansion also possible was Samsung’s privileged status as investor in Vietnam; Samsung is exempt from taxes and factory sites are free.

As of 2018, Samsung has hired about 160,000 at its operations and another 20,000 in its local supply chains in the country, according to the trade association.


Samsung does not disclose labor and safety records in Vietnam.  However, its ever-sprawling production hub has been marked by flash riots and consistent stories of worker abuse.

In Jan. 2014, violence broke out in northern Thai Nguyen province where Samsung was building a $3.2 billion smartphone plant, leaving thirteen injured, four critically.

In March 2017, some Vietnamese workers’ scuffles with Korean security guards flared up into riot at a Samsung Display factory site.

Both sites were being built by Samsung C&T, the conglomerate’s construction unit.

In Dec. 2017, Vietnam-based NGO CGFED and Sweden-based IPEN released a joint study finding Samsung’s smartphone female assemblers in Vietnam chronically suffer extreme fatigue, fainting dizziness, and even miscarriages.



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Samsung fiercely disputed the results of the first-ever joint survey by global and local NGOs.  It threatened the groups with a lawsuit, prompting the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to respond.

“We have also asked Samsung for clarification on the allegations received that workers in the factories were also threatened with lawsuits if they talked to people outside the company about working conditions following the report’s publication last December,” said the UN High Commissioner in a press release on March 20, 2018.

“While an assessment of the findings of the report requires a response by the competent authorities,” added the commissioner, “it is unacceptable that researchers or workers reporting on what they consider to be unhealthy and inadequate working conditions are intimidated by private or public officials.”

Maverick or Company Man

The 51-year-old Kim’s appointment is out of the ordinary, given the fact that the Vietnam ambassadorship is reserved for assistant-ministerial level diplomats for the Eastern Asian country’s rising importance as a trading partner.

Local corporate media painted the new ambassador as a kind of maverick.  In 2004, as a mid-ranking official at the foreign department, Kim blew the whistle on his supervisor who made “contemptuous remarks” about the then-President Roh Moo-hyun and his security adviser for their attempts at a new defense framework independently of the U.S.  Kim’s revelations led to the resignation of the foreign minister.

Since his departure from the government, Kim has worked up the corporate ladder at Samsung where he started as global CSR head in 2013. He resigned as global business manager, Europe and the former USSR, in 2018.

Recommended From Outside

“Kim was recommended from outside [the foreign ministry],” an anonymous government source told independent Kyunghyang newspaper, without further elaborating what was meant by “outside.”

As for Kim, he did not hide his willingness to protect corporate interests as ambassador.  “Ambassadors must serve from a corporate perspective,” the new ambassador said in an interview with business daily Financial News.

“Since it is doing extremely well and already making up more than 25 percent of Vietnamese exports, Samsung would not need help,” Kim said, not even bothering to distance himself from his former employer.

“Samsung always comes up with an alternative.” Kim said about his experience with the company.  “It has a system that always rectifies errors.”

“Dreams and imaginations come true—this global surrealism is the corporate culture of Samsung,” said the former Samsung man who just assumed the most important South Korean government post in Vietnam.


Kim’s appointment cast doubts over the Moon Jae-in government’s commitment to addressing labor issues at Samsung.  In March 2017, the then-Presidential frontrunner Moon agreed to a policy framework on Samsung, which included seeking a rightful solution of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster and better oversight of its global supply chains.

In April 2018, the Moon government’s civil rights agency and industry ministry sided with Samsung in its rejection of an infirm former employee’s request for the disclosure of chemical exposure she sustained while on the job at its LCD display lab.

SHARPS’s Sit-in Continues

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.

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