Archive for July 7th, 2018



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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