Archive for July, 2018


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If you still believe corporations today are too powerful to be challenged, or you still doubt the power of ordinary people to defy and defeat corporate nastiness and abuse, here is some news for you:  a small labor advocacy group has just extracted long-awaited, major concessions from one of the world’s nastiest and most powerful companies.

Official Triumph

It’s now official.  On July 24, SHARPS and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. signed an agreement, under which a third-party mediation committee will produce an arbitration proposal by October regarding the tech conglomerate’s occupational disease clusters.

The proposal will bind Samsung to make a public apology to its cluster victims, to compensate them under new criteria, and to revamp workplace safety measures—all as proposed by the Mediation Committee.

“It is truly deplorable that the issues of workers having fallen ill and died from on-the-job chemical exposure remained unsolved for more than ten long years,” said Hwang Sang-ki, a SHARPS founder and a 63-year-old taxi driver who lost her then-21-year-old daughter in 2007 to occupationally caused leukemia at Samsung, “just because they were poor ones without money and power.”

“Samsung will proactively cooperate with the Mediation Committee,” said Kim Sung-sik, Samsung’s executive vice president who signed the agreement on his company’s behalf.  “Only a complete solution [of the occupational disease] would console the sickened workers and their families.”

Ramming the Invincibility of Samsung

Samsung needs to turn around its tarnished image ahead of a supreme court ruling for founding family scion Lee Jae-yong, according to multiple local press reports. Lee may face long prison terms after allegedly bribing a now-impeached President Park Geun-hye to facilitate his hereditary takeover of Samsung.

However, it was SHARPS’s tenacious campaign that continued to punch holes in the impenetrable walls of a scandal-ridden Samsung empire.

“We began the sit-in with two desperate tasks in mind,” said SHARPS in a statement after signing the agreement.  “First, we needed to make the world know Samsung’s occupational-disease issue was still ongoing, and second, we needed to have discontinued dialogue with Samsung re-initiated,” SHARPS added.

“After enduring more than 1,000 days on streets, we achieved both,” the advocacy group concluded.

 Ending The Sit-in

On July 25 evening, SHARPS and its supporters held a rally ending their sit-in after 1,023 days.

“What a victory,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, in a video feed at the rally.  “Now we need to see that Samsung is forced to reveal the names of these chemicals [used in production],” added the leader of the 180-million-strong global union organization.  In May 2017, she visited the sit-in to mark the 600th day of the protest.


One of the first nights during SHARPS’ 1,023-day sit-in

On Victims

As of June 2018, SHARPS has profiled 320 victims of Samsung’s cluster. Among them 118 have died.  The advocacy group has, via petition or through court filings, successfully assisted 28 victims of Samsung and others in getting workers compensation.

The following is a full translation of Hwang Sang-ki’s remarks about the agreement.  All brackets ([ ]) are added to aid readability:   

More than thirteen years have passed since my Yumi fell victim to leukemia

She had to tender her resignation while under medical treatment for the disease.  Samsung collected her resignation letter after promising me KRW 50 million [U$44,000] to reimburse some medical expenses I had paid for.  They gave me KRW 5 million (U$4,400], instead. A big corporation should not unscrupulously break its own promise to its own workers who were dying due to on-the-job chemical exposure.

It is truly deplorable that the issues of workers having fallen ill and died from on-the-job chemical exposure remained unsolved for more than ten long years, just because they were poor ones without money and power.

I [often] could not but to ask what the government and corporations are for.

Nevertheless, it is really a relief to get clues to the solution of Samsung’s occupational-disease issue.

I welcome it.

There must be no repeat of such workplace issues in my country.  I am grateful to Mediation Committee Chair and others who have been showing interest in the matter.  Thank you.

Hwang Sang-ki, SHARPS

July 24, 2018


The following is a full translation of the statement SHARPS released on the agreement.  All brackets ([ ]) are added to aid readability:   

  1. Today, SHARPS and Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd agreed to accept the arbitration framework proposed by the Mediation Committee.

  2.  It was five years and seven months ago when the proposal for mediation was made.  It was three years and one day ago when the Mediation Committee unveiled its first proposal.  It was 1,022 days ago when we began to sit in, awaiting re-initiation of the dialogue that had never been initiated with Samsung over the mediation proposal.

  3. It still feels less than adequate that arbitration has supplanted direct dialogue of the two parties.  However, we could have not made this invaluable step forward without such long and hard periods.

  4. We appreciate the Mediation Committee spending considerable amounts time and efforts addressing the [occupational disease] issue. Indeed, it was not easy to consent, in advance, to an arbitration proposal without knowing the details.  We decided to place trust in an initiation pledge by the Mediation Committee:  It would perceive the [occupational disease] issue as part of a [broader] social agenda and help solve it in kind.  In its proposal for arbitration., the committee said, “the Mediation Committee has to consider rational criteria that can be used for any future [occupational disease] victims to receive appropriate assistance.”  In the hope that it will make good on this commitment, we expect the arbitration proposal.

  5. It was not an easy decision for Samsung to consent to the proposal.  Since it has made a difficult commitment, we hope the wishes and demands of society reach out to Samsung: it should safeguard the lives and safety of workers in a wholesome way that fits its influence and status.

  6. We wholeheartedly appreciate our supporters who spent two winters and three summers [in a makeshift canopy] without a proper roof or floor despite severe cold snaps and heat waves.  Thanks to you, we did not envy any five-star hotel guests.  We show our respect to victims and their families for their persistence. Holding their hands together, they have, by themselves, endured times of agony, frustration and anger.

  7. As under the agreement, we will end the sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters tomorrow with a rally.  On Oct. 7, 2015, we began the sit-in with two desperate tasks in mind:  First, we needed to make the world know Samsung’s occupational-disease issue was still ongoing, and second, we needed to have discontinued dialogue reinitiated with Samsung. After enduring more than 1,000 days on streets, we achieved both.  This is a valuable triumph made possible by those who supported and who showed solidarity.

  8. We will now revitalize our bodies and souls drained during the outdoor sit-in and anticipate the arbitration proposal.  With the agreement today, we tied the first knot. We hope you altogether closely watch us until the proposal is made and implemented.


July 24, 2018




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It’s been so long overdue that it’s looked hopelessly far off.  However, the day finally has come—Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd has agreed to a binding arbitration framework that will likely compel the world’s most powerful corporation to fully compensate and earnestly apologize to victims of its occupational-disease clusters.

On July 21, Samsung said it would unconditionally act on an arbitration proposal that a once-crippled mediation committee will make by October.  “With a willingness to be ought to seek a solution,” a Samsung spokesman, Kim Jeong-seok told the TV network SBS. “We have decided to accept the proposal by the mediation committee.”

SHARPS also agreed to the proposal.

Samsung did an about-face.

Chaired by a third party and a retired supreme court judge, Kim Ji-hyung, the mediation committee was formed in 2014 when SHARPS and Samsung began their first negotiations.  In July 2015, Samsung, in effect, disabled the committee by rejecting the committee’s proposal for an independent compensation scheme.  The conglomerate has since ended negotiations and launched its own compensation program—all which prompted SHARPS to stage a sit-in at its corporate headquarters in south Seoul.     

Binding Samsung

On July 18, in its last-ditch attempt, the mediation committee upped the ante and proposed a binding arbitration process.  It went further in declaring that it would dissolve itself if either party did not accept the proposal.  The following are highlights although details must be worked out in the next three months:

  • Samsung will begin to put in place safety measures proposed by the mediation committee by October 2018.
  •  Samsung will make a formal apology proposed by the committee by October 2018
  •  Samsung will compensate SHARPS-profiled victims under a new scheme proposed by the committee by October 2018.
  •  Samsung will compensate new victims for the next ten years after it pays its first compensation under the new scheme.
  • SHARPS will end its sit-in within days of the formal signing of the proposal for arbitration.

The three parties will sign the proposal on July 24, Korean time.  SHARPS plans to hold a rally on July 25, declaring an end to the sit-in that began on Oct 8, 2015.

Too Late? Never!

A variety of local media reports have pointed to Samsung’s need to soothe public sentiment ahead of a pending supreme court ruling for Lee Jae-yong, the rising heir of the Samsung empire who was convicted of corruption and bribery, then released earlier this year with a suspended jail term.

“Lee Jae-yong awaits trial for his bribery charges,” said Hwang Sang-ki, a SHARPS founder and father of Hwang Yu-mi,  the first publicly known victim of the Samsung cluster, in an interview with the TV network JTBC.  “Addressing the occupational disease issue has nothing to do with his bribery charges.”  Hwang went on saying: “I have nothing to say because the occupational disease issue has nothing to do with Lee’s trial.”

“The state of affairs has been prolonged because of Samsung,” said Kyunghyang, an independent daily, in an editorial on July 22.  “By accepting the proposal for arbitration, Samsung showed its willingness to proactively solve the current state of affairs.”

“Samsung has been bent solely upon shirking its responsibility,” said Hankyoreh, another independent newspaper in its editorial.  “It must be made clear that addressing the leukemia crisis [at Samsung] and Samsung vice chairman Lee Jae-yong’s court trial are two separate issues.”

SHARPS will release comments after signing the proposal.

On Victims

As of June 2018, SHARPS has profiled 320 victims of Samsung’s cluster. Among them 118 have died.  The advocacy group has, via petition or through court filings, successfully assisted 28 victims of Samsung and others in getting workers compensation.


The following is a full, near-direct translation of the mediation committee’s proposal for the arbitration process.  All brackets ([ ]) are added to aid readability:   


Second Arbitration Proposal by the Mediation Committee to Settle Issues of Leukemia and Other Workplace Diseases at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.  

July 18, 2018


The Purpose and Goal of the Proposal

The Mediation Committee to Settle Issues of Leukemia and Other Workplace Diseases at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Mediation Committee”) has been proceeding with mediation regarding three items on the mediation agenda–an apology [by Samsung], compensation and preventive measures [regarding occupational hazards]—for the three parties, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Samsung”), Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry (hereinafter, “SHARPS”), and the Family Settlement Committee (hereinafter, “Settlement Committee”) since Dec. 18, 2014, when the first mediation process began.  

On July 23, 2015 the Mediation Committee unveiled an arbitration proposal, which led to an amicable agreement between Samsung and Settlement Committee over compensation and an apology.  In particular, regarding preventive measures, mediation continued until Jan. 12, 2016 when the three parties agreed in writing to preventive measures.

However, except for preventive measures, Samsung and SHARPS (hereinafter referred to as “the two parties”) have found themselves at loggerheads over the other remaining two items, despite a variety of attempts by the Mediation Committee at a variety of forms of mediation.

Heavily weighed down by the responsibility for its failure to bring the two parties to final agreement, the Mediation Committee could no longer leave the situation as it stood and concluded it should rightly provide an opportunity for a new solution. After contacting Samsung and SHARPS, the committee confirmed that the two parties basically agreed to restart mediation.

Since the rise of semiconductor-pertinent health issues in our society, not only academic and social debates but also court and KCOMWEL rulings have emerged regarding industrial injury treatment and compensation approval. Every workplace has accumulated experience of [occupational] disease support, compensation formation, and distribution.

Accordingly, after reviewing issues and demands raised during the first period of mediation and comparing them with occupational-disease compensation schemes of the three semiconductor makers—Samsung, SK Hynix and LG Display—the Mediation Committee concluded that a social consensus, tacit or otherwise, has been formed, or the rift in opinion has narrowed over many of the issues, which has in turn substantially improved the possibility of an agreement [between the two parties].

Nevertheless, it is confirmed that there is still a difference in opinion between the two parties.  While from its own objective point of view, the Mediation Committee concluded that the difference can be reconciled acceptably by the two parties, after the mediation process, the committee has come to entirely understand that it is not an issue that is easily accepted by the two parties.  Therefore,the Mediation Committee concluded it cannot be easily addressed through mediation—[indeed] practically impossible.

Meanwhile, the Mediation Committee has confirmed that the two parties have not abandoned their willingness to reach a settlement despite the differences in opinion and that there is continual [public] interest in and support for the Mediation Committee from many sectors of society because the issue is of significant meaning as part of a [broader] social agenda. More, the Mediation Committee had to renew its awareness of the desperate need to come up with a more creative and productive solution as part of fulling not only an immediate social agenda but also a future common social value.

Accordingly, the Mediation Committee decided to restart the once-suspended mediation process and proposes that the process be replaced by arbitration, in which Mediation Chair would provide an [binding] arbitration proposal for the two parties to accept.

Proposal: Principles and Foundation

Before the second mediation/arbitration period, the two parties should agree to comply with the arbitration proposal. The process will move forward on condition of the success of the arbitration. The Mediation Committee will assume that there the parties have no willingness to entrust it with powers to arbitrate, declare an end to the process and dissolve itself if either party rejects the proposal.

The Mediation Committee Chair will put his best effort into formulating q rational proposal based on the spirit of compromise by considering the two parties’ demands and allegations in an inclusive way that would not undermine the core values each party attempts to safeguard.

Regarding points of contention, the Mediation Committee will secure objectivity and rationality through discussion and examination in consultation with [third party] authoritative experts.

The arbitration proposal will include practical guidance for the common goal members of our society should achieve in order to pursue future common values.

Methods and Contents of the 2nd Mediation/Arbitration Process 

Methods. The second mediation period will proceed under agreement by the two parties:  Prior to the period, the two parties will comply with the proposal by Mediation Committee Chair; and it will be proceeded with on condition the proposal be completely acted upon.

Disclosure and Confidentiality.

Procedural Disclosure and Confidentiality

Proposal for second-period initiation will be disclosed

The signing by the three parties—Samsung, SHARPS, Mediation Committee—of the arbitration proposal will be disclosed

Discussion of the proposal and preparations are confidential

The final proposal and its signing ceremony will be disclosed

Individual compensation and its details will be confidential

Key takeaways of the arbitration proposal

New compensation scheme for occupational diseases

– A new scheme, set to be enacted on the effect date of the arbitration proposal, includes entitlements for recipients, scope of the diseases and metrics for compensation.  Accordingly, a new compensation commission will be formed.

-Compensation for Victims represented by SHARPS

– For victims represented by SHARPS (and for separate entitlement criteria)  a compensation scheme will be formed (Based on Samsung’s already-existing compensation scheme and the new scheme, the Mediation Committee Chair will finalize the payouts)

An apology by Samsung

– Samsung will accept an apology proposal—based on the mediation proposal—made by the Mediation Committee as part of arbitration

SHARPS’s end of the sit-in

Upon agreeing to the arbitration process, SHARPS will end the sit-in within days.

Preventive Measures and CSR

– The Mediation Committee will devise schemes to improve working conditions at semiconductor plants and to support safety management of [Samsung’s] contractors and the electronics industry for Samsung and the government.

Procedures and Timetable. The second period will be proceeded with as promptly as possible. Any inevitable change or modification to the progress of the process will be duly notified to the two parties.

Proposed Timetable

July 18. Proposal for Arbitration is released from Mediation Committee to Samsung and SHARPS

July 21.  Reply from Samsung and SHARPS to the Mediation Committee

July 24.  Signing of the proposal for arbitration

August-September.  Discussion and Preparations for an arbitration proposal

September-early October.  Signing of the arbitration proposal.

October. Compensation will be released to SHARPS-profiled victims

Effective in Oct.  2018, a third compensation commission is formed to compensate victims in the next ten years.

Closing remarks

It’s been a considerably long time since the Mediation Committee was formed. Thanks to the virtue of concession and compromise exhibited by the parties involved, some accomplishments were made. However, the pain and agony of the directly involved parties outweigh what’s been accomplished because there are still too a considerable number of unsolved issue for the accomplishments to be touted. The Mediation Committee has felt remorse and regret for its failure to accomplish its mission, despite its own perception of the current issue as part of  a significant social agenda and a public plea for an amicable solution.

The Mediation Committee has now dismissed these negative thoughts and started anew with an attempt at arbitration as a way to reach agreement. This is how the committee would assist the two parties in bringing their shining efforts to magnificent fruition. This is because in addition to the direct parties, for those who on the quiet supported and showed interest [in the Mediation Committee]  An amicable solution should become part of the future common value pursued by our society.

As discussed at the initiation of the Mediation Committee, the solution should be led by the parties directly involved. The Mediation Committee decided to make an arbitration proposal because the parties should inevitably make certain degrees of compromise and concession. Most of all, this is because the current issue is not only a temporary issue between the parties, but also an issue pertaining to the health of all working people in our society.  Therefore, the Mediation Committee has to consider rational criteria that can be used for any future [occupational disease] victims to receive appropriate assistance.

The Mediation Committee holds the current issue not as one for the two parties and itself as a substantial issue that should be addressed societally. Mediation Committee seek all your support to make the arbitration a success.

I, the Chair, will, with my initial intention in mind, do my best to create an amicable solution  in in the interests of the two parties.  I hope the two parties take the intention of the Mediation Committee as it is and set the arbitration process in motion promptly.  I earnestly hope a good outcome comes along and makes a chapter in history.  I look forward to responses from the two parties.

Thank you,

Kim Ji-hyung,

Chair, Mediation Committee




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As of July 2, 2018, SHARPS’ sit-in has continued for more than 1000 days.  On Oct.7, 2015, tens of SHARPS members pitched a makeshift canopy to squat at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul as, the day prior, the world’s largest tech firm walked out of negotiations over sustainable and publicly verifiable compensation and worker safety schemes.

SHARPS celebrated the milestone of its resilient campaigning with three days of protests and teach-ins.  The 1000th day fell on the same week that, 30 years ago, saw the occupationally caused death of a young worker.

On July 2, 1988, Mun Song-myeon, a 15-year-old worker, died of mercury poisoning, after two months of injecting liquid metal into thermometers at a factory in Seoul.

Chronicle of A Death Foretold

The two months leading up to Mun’s death revealed the government’s strikingly poor oversight of workplace chemical exposure. His employer refused to approve Mun’s petition for workers compensation although a managerial consent was required of workers comp petitioners.  The ministry of labor rejected the medical opinion by a doctor at Seoul National University Hospital, citing that his medical institution, the country’s finest, was not designated as a worker comp examiner.

Mun died just a month after a strong campaign by medical and labor activists compelled the government to approve his workers comp.

South Korea’s government launched its first medical clinic specializing in occupational medicine in 1999.

“Mun who died 30 years ago was not trained in chemical safety, Hwang Sang-ki, the father of Hwang Yu-mi, who suffered the first publicly known death of Samsung’s blood disorder cluster, said at a press conference SHARPS called on July 2 jointly with a commemorative committee for Mon.  “Neither did my daughter Yu-mi, who died in 2007.”

“Two years ago, young workers about Mun’s age came to suffer permanent vision loss because of chemical exposures at Samsung and LG’s second-tier subcontractor,” Kim Myong-hwan, chair of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), said at the conference.

Profile of Continuing Deaths

As of June 2018, SHARPS has profiled 320 victims of Samsung’s cluster. Among them 118 have died.  The advocacy group has, via petition or through court filings, successfully assisted 28 victims of Samsung and others in getting workers comp, said Lim Ja-woon, SHARPS’s legal counsel, in a presentation at a workshop on July 3.

Since its first ruling in favor of a victim in June 2011, the court issued 13 rulings in victims’ favor over six occupational diseases.  Since its first such approval in March 2013, The KCOMWEL approved 15 indvidual petitions over seven diseases.

Among the 28 victims, 14 are now deceased.  Both petition and court proceedings are time-consuming.  On average, it takes 605 days for a KCOMWEL petition to be proceeded while the administrative court on average spends 1,405 days before ruling.

In sum, a victim, already in dire need of medical care and financial support, has to wait five and a half years to see a ruling if his or her workers comp case is adjudicated in the court system after a tedious petition process.

SHARPS wrapped up the three days of solidarity and celebration, with about 1,000 supporters forging human chains around Samsung’s headquarters.




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The 1,000 Days: Snapshot 1

Since it abruptly ended dialogue with SHARPS in October 2015, Samsung has instituted its own scheme to pay some victims token compensation without admitting any wrongdoing.

SHARPS’s sit-in was an urgent crimp in Samsung’s attempt to divide victims and scupper the campaign.

The Samsung conglomerate appeared emboldened.  Three months earlier, in July 2017, it won shareholder approval for the merger of two key affiliates, paving the way for Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y. Lee, to take over managerial control of Samsung Electronics from his bedridden father Lee Kun-hee.

After the merger approval—assisted by the country’s National Pension Service (NPS), a core Samsung shareholder—the conglomerate probably no longer felt the need to ingratiate itself with a public wary of its hereditary managerial succession and ever-expanding political influence.

Snapshot 2

However, one year into the sit-in, in October 2016, the balance began to tilt toward SHARPS.  Jay’s attempt to burnish his image as young heir of the Samsung empire backfired as Galaxy 7 Note—dubbed the “Jae-yong phone” in South Korea— turned out to be literally fire-prone.  Jay was elected to the board of directors amidst growing global skepticism about his managerial competence.

Snapshot 3

By November 2016, Samsung emerged at the epic center of national protests against then-President
Park Geun-hye, who, among other things, entrusted her shamanic confidant to raise slush funds from corporation.  The cult-worshiping associate, Cho Soon-sil pressed the NPS to support the aforementioned merger in return for gifts and bribes from Jay.

Park was impeached in March 2017. A month earlier, Jay landed in jail on five accounts of corruption.  He was released a year later as his five-year sentence was waived.  A supreme court ruling is still pending.

As for the NPS, its chairman, Moon Hyung-pyo was arrested in December 2016 for swaying the Samsung merger vote.  In July 2018, the service’ acting CIO resigned reportedly after an internal audit turned up his role in supporting the Samsung merger.

Snapshot 4

Elected on the wave of mass protest in May 2017, reform-minded President Moon Jae-in has launched a fresh probe into Samsung’s union-busting drive.  The investigation has to date unearthed a diversity of anti-unionization tactics raging from intimidation to bribery and retaliation, and involving not only Samsung executives but also police officers and labor ministry aides.  

One of the most shocking findings:  Samsung used a police detective as a middleman to bribe the father of a contractor-worker who committed suicide after frustration with Samsung’s union-busting.

In May 2014, Yeom Ho-seok, 34 years old, asphyxiated himself to death with burning charcoal in his car.  Samsung paid the father KRW 600 million (U$5.4 million) to claim Yeom’s body.  The father, who had abandoned his son as an infant, called the police which sent 300 cops in full riot gear to seize Yeom’s body from the morgue.

A few days ahead of his election as President in May 2018, Mr. Moon agreed to the policy framework proposed by SHARPS regarding Samsung. The agreement, as with all other electoral pledges in the world, is non-binding.

Nevertheless, President Moon should make good on this promise because SHARPS and its supporters were integral contingents to the mass protests, now aptly called the Candlelight Revolution, that elected him to the presidency.

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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