Posts Tagged ‘SHARPS’

Choi Kwon-ho, the chief of the Seocho precinct of Seoul, where some police officers believe their “portrait right” is more important than citizens’ public safety.     Source: http://www.smpa.go.kr/sc/

Choi Kwon-ho, the chief of the Seocho precinct of Seoul, where at least two police officers safeguard their own “portrait rights” at the cost of ordinary citizens’ civil liberties.  Source: web capture at http://www.smpa.go.kr/sc/

On July 24th, the Seoul police harassed and even briefly detained SHARPS’s lawyer and supporters, one day after the advocacy group stepped up its effort to further press Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd, to admit that its hazardous working conditions have spawned a cluster of fatal occupational disease, and to compensate the victims.

Samsung Cordon

On July 24, SHARPS’s labor attorney Lee Jong-ran called the police after a phalanx of private security guards sealed off the public sidewalk at the entrance of Samsung’s corporate headquarters in Seoul.  Samsung also cordoned the streets around the building front with tens of buses in an apparent attempt to thwart pickets.  Two police officers from the Seocho precinct of Seoul showed up.  However, they did not take any action, claiming that maintenance of the streets is out of their jurisdiction.

Police Officers’ Rights to Their Portraits

Then, the two officers suddenly demanded a SHARPS volunteer stop videotaping their discussion with Lee.  The officers said, “Stop videotaping. That’s violations of the portrait rights.”

The portrait right, also called the right of publicity, refers to the right of an individual to protect the fair use of image.  In South Korea, portrait rights violations can lead to criminal charges.  When asked why videotaping public officials violated their publicity rights, the police did not answer. Instead, they threatened to arrest the videographer unless he gave them his national ID number and address.

On July 24th, Lee Jong-ran, SHARPS’s labor attorney, was arrested for murmuring to herself.

On July 24th, Lee Jong-ran, SHARPS’s labor attorney, was arrested for murmuring to herself.

Dangerous Murmur 

Following the argument, Lee murmured to herself, “They received money from Samsung?”  Then, the officers arrested her, citing defamation.

Chung Hee-su, the husband of a Samsung victim, went to the precinct to protest the arrest. The police arrested him too for public disturbances, but he was not read her rights when arrested.  Chung’s wife, Lee Yun-jeong died of brain tumor in May 2012.  She was survived by Chung and two children.

Lee and Chung were released that evening, after being held for seven hours.

New Round Of Campaign To Heighten Pressure on Samsung

The police harassment came at a time when SHARPS has been increasing pressure on Samsung with a series of daily pickets and collective workers comp petitions.  A day earlier, on July 23rd, SHARPS filed petitions for workers compensation on behalf of ten former Samsung Electronics employees.  Four of the petitioners worked on the same memory chip or LCD production line, where their co-workers had already died or been suffering from a variety of blood disorder.  Eight of the ten had been employed at the Kihung plant and two at the LCD plant of Samsung.

SHARPS also demanded the government conduct epidemiologic investigations of Samsung’s chip and LCD production lines.

Chung Hee-su’s wife Lee Yun-jeong died of brain cancer in May 2012, after having worked at a Samsung chip production line.  The police arrested Chung on July 24th for public disturbances when he protested the arrest of his labor attorney, Lee.  Chung was not Mirandized.

Chung Hee-su’s wife Lee Yun-jeong died of brain cancer in May 2012, after having worked at a Samsung chip production line. The police arrested Chung on July 24th for public disturbances when he protested the arrest of his labor attorney, Lee. Chung was not Mirandized.

One petitioner, who had inspected chip wafers—often with bare hands—at Samsung for 15 years, is diagnosed with choriocarcinoma, a fast-growing form of uterine cancer. The cancerous cells start in the tissues that would become the placenta, the organ that forms during pregnancy to feed the fetus.

Correction: a prior version of this post incorrectly indicated Chung Hee-su, husband of a Samsung victim, as a woman. This post has been updated to add more information on Chung and his late wife, Lee Yun-jeong

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About 26 hours after the first leak on Jan. 27, South Korean police began to investigate the site of Samsung’s Hwaseong plan where yet-undetermined amounts of hydrofluoric acid gas were released.

Neighboring elementary schools have postponed new semesters in fear of fallout from recent chemical leaks at a nearby Samsung plant.  The surrounding community is unsettled with anger and frustration.  However, nine days after leaks of hydrofluoric acid gas that killed one worker and injured four at its plant south of Seoul, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. continues to cover up the fatal incidents with more lies.  The following is a quick rundown of new facts that the world’s largest chipmaker had been covering up since this blog’s last post:

Fact 1

Samsung said of the Jan. 27-28 leaks as the first-of-its-kind incident.  However, it was not the first time that hydrofluoric acid gas, a virulent and deadly impurity remover for semiconductor wafers, has leaked at the Hwaseong plant.  The conservative Chosun Il bo quoted a study conducted in 2011 by Dr. Suh Byung-seong, of Sungkyunkwan University and Kangbuk Samsung Hospital, and reported that a 37-year-old male worker was treated in Sept. 2010 after exposures to the acid gas. 

Prof. Suh’s study did not name Samsung’s Hwaseong plant as the site of the leak and instead described it as a semiconductor plant with 20,000 employees.  However, Samsung confirmed the incident, saying “a contract worker was exposed to the leak [three years ago].”  This is particularly outrageous because while Samsung concealed the leak from authorities in breach of law, a professor who teaches at a university and a hospital that Samsung owns, could still conduct a study of the victim. 

Fact 2

Initial press reports put the volume of the January 28-29 leaks at ten liters.  Later, Samsung said it was about two or three liters.  However, an autopsy of the 34-year-old victim known by his last name Hwang turned up a blister larger than one centimeter in the respiratory path, suggesting that the amounts of the leaks exceeded the capacity of his gasmask’s filter.   The exact volume of the leaks has yet to be determined.

Fact 3

Samsung ordered the four workers who were dispatched to the leak from contractor STI Service to patch up the leaks with absorption pads and plastic bags although the workers reported that the melted gasket needed immediate replacement, according to an opposition lawmaker who interviewed one of the four workers. 

It was about 11:30pm, about nine hours after the first leak, when Samsung management agreed to the replacement. Hwang, who ultimately died due to his exposure to the leak, had to work on the leak during his first hours on the site without wearing a protective suit because Samsung had urged him to stop the leak immediately so production would not be interrupted. 

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Photographs of Samsung’s occupational-disease victims were displayed at the entrance to a National Assembly hearing in Oct. 2012 (ohmynews.com).

After six years of campaigns and petitions over 56 occupational-disease deaths at the world’s largest chipmaker, SHARPS has agreed to enter dialogue with Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. over the question of compensation for the victims of the company’s blood-disorder clusters and their families.

“Samsung’s dialogue proposal is the result of six years of our ceaseless efforts,” said SHARPS at a press conference January 22.

“Samsung has treated my daughter’s leukemia as though it was a random disease,” said Hwang Sang-ki, who lost her daughter Yumi to occupationally caused leukemia at Samsung.  “They also treated me like a heinous fraudster,” said the 58-year-old taxi driver whose lone outcry for her daughter’s untimely death six years ago led to the formation of SHARPS.

“Because the public has been scorning Samsung, thanks to our long campaign, the company agreed to dialogue,” Hwang concluded.


This is not the first time Samsung sought out direct dialogue with SHARPS.  And to date, all proposals have come up with ploys.  In September 2012, through its lawyers, Samsung proposed to seek arbitration on an appeal lawsuit brought by SHARPS, on behalf of a leukemia victim’s family, against the Korea Labor Welfare Corporation, the South Korean government’s workers compensation entity.  SHARPS rejected the proposal because Samsung, a third party to the lawsuit, called for dropping the lawsuit.  In October 2012, Samsung leaked a false story to the media, claiming that it has begun dialogue with SHARPS.

It was November of last year when Samsung sent SHARPS a written request for dialogue through a lawyer representing the company in the appeal lawsuit.  In December, SHARPS accepted the proposal.  In January 2013, Samsung complied with SHARPS’s request and confirmed SHARPS’s acceptance in writing.

The following is the timeline:

March 6, 2007  Hwang Yumi, Samsung’s former chip line worker, died of leukemia.
Sept. 28, 2012  Samsung made its first request for dialogue with SHARPS, on the condition that SHARPS would drop the ongoing workers compensation lawsuit.  SHARPS rejected it.
Oct. 17, 2012  Some media outlets began to run false stories that Samsung had initiated dialogue with SHARPS.
Oct. 18, 2012  Testimony by Samsung executives at a National Assembly hearing confirmed that the aforementioned media reports are false.
Nov. 27, 2012  Choi Wu-su, president of Samsung’s device solution unit, sent a written request for dialogue through a lawyer representing Samsung at the workers’ comp lawsuit
Dec. 20, 2012  SHARPS accepted the request in a letter to Samsung Representative Director Kim Jong-jung.
Jan. 4,  2013  SHARPS in writing urged Samsung to express its willingness to dialogue in writing.
Jan. 11, 2013  Representative Director Kim notified SHARPS, in writing, of the formation of a negotiation team.


In a letter dated January 11, Choi Wu-su, president of Samsung’s device solution unit, said the company tapped an in-house lawyer and a human resources executive for dialogue with SHARPS.

However, the company appears to be continuing its maneuvering by leaking unsubstantiated leads to the media.   On January 22, the independent Hankyoreh described a new remarkable proposal under consideration at Samsung for the occupational disease victims, citing an anonymous Samsung executive.  “If necessary, we can raise a special fund for the people who developed leukemia not just at Samsung but also anywhere at home and abroad,” the newspaper quoted the unnamed source as saying.

Over the past six years,  SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and aplastic anemia after employment in the South Korean electronics industry.  As of June 2012, 63 of the 155 have died.  The majority of the workers, 138, were employed at Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics, and Samsung SDS—the three electronics affiliates of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate.  Of the 63 deaths, 56 were Samsung employees.

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Seoul National University students and SHARPS voice opposition to the appointment of Hwang Chang-gyu, former CEO of Samsung’s semiconductor unit, as a visiting professor.

SHARPS and students activists at Seoul National University have formed a task force to thwart the university’s month-long attempt to appoint a former executive of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. to the Sociology department as a visiting professor.

On Jan. 14, the activists and bereaved family members of Samsung blood-disorder victims rallied at the administration building of SNU, calling for the country’s top university to rescind plans to appoint Hwang Chang-gyu, CEO of Samsung’s semiconductor unit in 2004-2008, to the prestigious position.

Hwang’s Law

In 2002, as CTO of Samsung, Mr. Hwang could claim a global reputation when he announced that Samsung would continue to double memory density every year—he dubbed this process Hwang’s Law.  Indeed, Samsung met this goal each year between 2002 and 2008.   However, Samsung has since been unable to develop a viable technology to live up to Hwang’s Law.


Hwang Chang-gyu, former CEO of Samsung’s semiconductor unit, does not know much about sociology but was once good at doubling memory density.

What really drove Hwang’s Law was Samsung’s belief in speed and volume.  As technology blogger Chris Edwards rightly predicted in 2007 regarding the end of Hwang’s Law:  “What is more likely is that Samsung will use the process developed for the 64Gb memory to make cheaper 8, 16 and 32Gb devices come 2009 when this process is meant to [enter] volume production.”

Hwang’s Deadly Law

Samsung’s young, mostly female, employees have worked excessively long hours under hazardous conditions to make the staggering speed and volume of chip production possible.  As of March 2012, SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia after employment in the electronics industry in South Korea.  More than 50 percent are former Samsung employees.  As of June, 2012, of the 155, 63 have died.

“Hwang Chang-gyu belongs in prison, not college,” said Hwang Sang-ki, the father of Hwang Yumi. His daughter was hired at the Samsung chip unit in 2003 when Hwang Chang-gyu began his big push on speed and volume.  In 2005, she was diagnosed with leukemia.  In 2007 Yumi died at the age of 23.   “Hwang Chang-gyu violated laws and left numerous workers ill and busted union drives,” the 58-year-old father said at the rally.


Hwang Sang-ki, the father of a Samsung leukemia victim, Hwang Yumi: “Hwang Chang-gyu belongs in prison, not college.”

Not a Sociologist

The 60-year-old Mr. Hwang, with a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from University of Massachusetts, has no credentials as a sociologist.  And his post-Samsung career is not impressive at all.  In 2010, Mr. Hwang was named National Chief Technology Officer, a newly created government position responsible for selecting and supporting an emerging strategic industry.  An inquiry by lawmakers discovered that in fiscal 2012 his office spent KRW4.7 billion (U$444 thousand) on remuneration versus KRW12 billion (U$1.1 million) on a total of three R&D projects.

To date, the SNU administration has categorically dismissed repeated requests by students and activists to disclose the rationale behind Mr. Hwang’s appointment.  The university’s personnel committee is scheduled to meet on Jan. 17 to finalize its decision on Mr. Hwang’s hiring.

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The majority of the 56 victims of the blood disorder cluster at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. were vocational high school graduates from poor families in small cities.  They went to work at Samsung in the late 1990s when South Korea boasted one of the world’s highest college enrollment rates, 61 percent.  Before the victims fell to a variety of blood disorders, Samsung, which was on its way to become the world’s largest chipmaker, was their source of pride and opportunity.  On July 9, Hankyoreh 21, one the county’s few independent weeklies, profiled four victims from the small city of Kunsan in a cover story.  The following is a translation of the report [All brackets are added]:           


The July 9, 2012 issue of Hankyoreh 21

Sitting quietly on the edge of Kum River, the southwestern city of Kunsan was a bustling port city under Japanese colonial rule of 1910-45 when it was a conduit for the Japanese to siphon rice off the Korean peninsula.  The colonial master called the city Kunsan of rice.  In the 1960s-80s, largely left out of South Korea’s fervent industrialization, Kunsan’s wealth declined.  For young girls living in a city whose skyline is still dominated by colonial edifices and floating piers, working at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., was a giant leap forward.

The four former Samsung Electronics employees, Yun Seul –ki and Yi Ah-young,  both 31 years old; Kim Mi-seon, 32 years old; and Chung Ae-jeong, 35 years old, went to the same Kunsan high school.  Yun and Yi are class 2000. Kim is class 1998 and Chung class 1996. They all spent least a year together with one or two of the other girls at Gunsan Girls Commercial High School, perhaps singing together the refrain of their school anthem: “My proud Gunsan Girls Commercial High.” About a decade later, Yun died.  Yi is suffering the aftereffects of surgery. Kim is on her sickbed.  Chung lost her husband to a disease he contracted while employed at Samsung.  Their medical conditions are: severe aplastic anemia; intermediate tumors in the head and neck; multiple sclerosis; and leukemia. It is unlikely that other Gunsan graduates share the bitter fate. Each contracted the disease while working at the Samsung LCD plant in Chonan or the semiconductor lab, and the LCD plant in Kiheung.


Over the gate of Gunsan Girls Commercial, a banner flies to congratulate recent graduates on their first jobs. Six are employed as operators at a Samsung Mobile Display plant in Chonan. About thirty have jobs at other semiconductor makers.

Even before graduation, the girls left home to partake in production of semiconductors, locally dubbed “the rice of industry.”  In the cleanroom, no speck of dust was allowed.  They stripped off their school uniforms and slipped into dirt-free garments covering themselves from head to toe.  They covered their long or short hair, and their brown eyes were exposed, still sparkling.  The rice of industry began to engulf the young girls from a small and old vocational school.

Yi began work at Samsung in June 1996, about a month later than Yun.  Yi still vividly remembers the day she entered the company fifteen years ago.  For a vocational school girl of a small city, working at the world’s biggest electronics maker was the source of pride.  Without standout academic credentials, one could not land a job at Samsung.  A year prior to her employment, Only 40 out of 100 applicants from her school received employment offers.

Samsung sent interviewers to the school.  Three interviewers interviewed about seven applicants together. “Semiconductor jobs were popular because they paid well, and had good dormitories.  I wanted a Samsung job because I wanted to make a lot of money,” said Yi.  A month later, she got on board the bus sent by Samsung for its in-house training facility.  Only five of her 47-student homeroom class landed Samsung jobs. .

Yi was posted as operator to the chemical vapor deposition process, in which she used chemical gas to add dopants to a pure semiconductor to modify its electrical properties.  Working on a three-daily shift was not easy to manage.  She had skin rashes and even collapsed. “My health got worse very much.  I found it hard to get adjusted to the company,” said Yi.  She resigned as operator in April 2002. The following year, she went to college.

She often became sick for no particular reason.  She felt exhausted, as if falling victim to a severe flu.  “Once I got sick, it lasted a month,” Yi said.  During four months a year in those years, she felt feeble.  She thought it was a tough flu to beat.  She took medicines and saw a doctor.  The illness continued to hound her even after college graduation.

It was the summer of 2009 when she began to see doctors at big hospitals in Seoul. They found intermediate tumor glands in her neck and head.  One of her doctors described them as glands in her nervous system.  “The condition is so rare that there are three patients with it a year,” Yi quoted her doctor as saying. Yi said, “I had the tumors removed quickly.  I suffered facial paralysis.”  The facial paralysis has become less severe, and she now works at a new job.

Yi believes she developed the tumors while employed at the semiconductor plant.  “A senior colleague of mine, who was a line inspector, collapsed with a foaming mouth.  Much later, I came to know that one predecessor had died of leukemia,” she said. “In 2000, when I was an operator, there was a blackout.”  There were concerns about possible chemical leaks during the blackout.  Yi has considered filing a request for workers’ compensation, but she did not file it.  “They don’t recognize even the dead ones.  Why would they grant my request?  I feel fortunate that I got out of there [Samsung] alive.”

Yi had not been in contact with Yun since graduation.  She came to know of the death of Yun, when interviewed by Hankyoreh 21.  “We were dying to work at Samsung.  I didn’t know all ended this way

Yun is the 56th victim of blood disorder clustering in the semiconductor industry as profiled by SHARPS.  She died at a Seoul hospital on June 2.  “I will live in Japan.”  This Yun often said to her mother.  A Kunsan native, Yun wanted to go to college in Japan.  She thought herself Japanese.  Yun was a fan of SMAP, a Japanese teenage pop band.  Thirteen years of struggling with severe aplastic anemia has deterred her dream.

Yun wanted to go to a prep school to improve her chances for college.  However, at the request of her mother, Shin, she went to Gunsan Girls Commercial, a high school whose graduates often land good industry jobs.

In May 1999, ahead of graduation, Yun applied for a position at Samsung.  A month later, she began to work at the LCD plant in Chonan.  Shin was proud of her daughter for working at a big corporation.  Yun was responsible for cutting chemically glazed LCD panels into size.  When Shin asked Yun about her job, she always indifferently said, “I am just a factory girl.”  The mother said, “I did not expect her to work on a blue-collar job at Samsung when she was employed at the company.”

Five months into the job, Yun fell on the factory floor.  She thought it was a flu, the one that got worse.  She did not get better.  Yun was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a condition where bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells.  Yun, herself a regular blood donor since high school, was an unlikely victim of the disease.  Her long fight against it began.  In 2002, she could nevertheless begin to study Japanese at a local college.

Her condition grew worse.  She stayed home longer, passing time by reading Murakami and other Japanese fiction.  Learning news that a former Samsung employee would receive workers compensation for aplastic anemia, she decided to file the request.  But her time ran out.  She died in May.

Kim is two years senior to Yi and Yun.  In 1997, she began to work as an operator in another LCD plant of Samsung.  She went through what the other two experienced two years sooner.  It was March 2000 when she became sick, about six months apart from Yun.  Kim is under treatment in Seoul for multiple sclerosis and optic neuritis.  Multiple sclerosis, the cause of which is yet unknown, can be caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals and excessive stress.  It damages the myelin sheath, which in turn slows down or blocks messages between the brain and body.  Kim is visually impaired because of the optic neuritis.

“They paid me 10, 000 won (US$10) in stipends after the interview.  I was so happy,” Kim said.  About 100 girls from her class went to work at Samsung’s LCD plants.  “It was during the 1997 financial meltdown [in the country].  There were fewer jobs going around.  I was glad to get selected by a big corporation with good pay,” she added.  She was hired in June 1996 and deployed to a soldering job after months of training.  “At first, I was responsible for soldering taps on LCD panels after cleaning them.  After a year, I was responsible for lead soldering,” she said.

After three years into employment, she became paralyzed on the left side of her body.  She could not lift the left arm anymore.  There is no history in her family of any such condition.

In March 2000, she took medical leave.  Her condition worsening, Kim eventually resigned from the company.  “Mother wanted me to seek workers’ compensation.  I opposed it.” She said. “I believed I could get back to work.  The company said my workers compensation request would not likely be accepted because the illness was caused for personal reasons.”

She went in and out of hospital as the condition of sclerosis fluctuated.  She lost vision in the right eye.  With her left eye, she can barely read large fonts on the computer screen.  Last year, Kim filed a request for workers compensation with the help of SHARPS, which she came to know through news reports.  “I did lead soldering, and air purifiers were often non-functional.  I sometimes wore only a paper mask.  We did not know how hazardous our jobs were,” she added.  She still collects prescriptions every two months.  She regularly has to undergo antibody and blood tests.  “I would have not worked at a semiconductor factory should I have known it was such a place.”

The memory chip industry experienced a great boom in 1995.  The release of Windows 95 boosted prices of memory chips.  Chung, a mother of two, is now a preschool teacher in the city of Siheung.  A Gunsan Girls Commercial graduate, she is a victim of the occupational disease cluster at Samsung. She lost her husband, himself an employee of the company, to leukemia.

Chung followed in the footsteps of her sister, who went to work at Samsung after graduation of the same high school.  “If you did not find a white-collar job in Kunsan, then Samsung is the next on your list,” she said.  In October 1995, Chung was employed as an operator at the plant in Kiheung.   Many of the young girls feared leaving home to work elsewhere.  Samsung’s well-appointed dormitories eased the fears.  “They even considered our conduct records.  They preferred upstanding students without truancy and cutting records.” Chung said.  About 150 graduates including her landed jobs at Samsung.

Three years into Samsung, she met Hwang Min-woong, an engineer, during a company choir practice.  They got married.  In 2004, Hwang was taken to the ER for flulike symptoms.  .He was diagnosed with leukemia.  Nine months later, he died while awaiting marrow donations.  It was ten days after Chung gave birth to their second child.  The company said the disease had nothing to do with Samsung.  She has continued to work at Samsung.   Chung’s story is depicted in A Clean Room.  She helps former Samsung employees to file requests for workers compensation,

On June 27, 2012 afternoon, girls began to pour from the gate of Gunsan Girls Commercial, bursting laughs as any teenager girls would.  Over the gate, a banner flies to congratulate recent graduates on their first jobs.  Six are employed as operators at a Samsung Mobile Display plant in Chonan.  About thirty have jobs at other semiconductor makers.  When asked what they know about working conditions at Samsung, some students answered, “We’ve been talking about it.  It’s dangerous to work there, but Samsung is still Samsung.  They pay well.”

“Samsung used to employ graduates in busloads,” one girl said.  “There are not many openings at Samsung.  They don’t have money either.”  Another concluded, “We came to a commercial high school because we want jobs after graduation.  There are not many jobs going around in Kunsan.”

“There are few well-paying jobs in Kunsan,” school sources said. “The students tend to favor the operator positions.”  Lee, the former homeroom teacher of Yun and Yi, said, “In 1999, after the financial crisis, when jobs were scarce, we found Samsung’s mass hiring encouraging.”

“We did not have any awareness or information about the danger of semiconductor and LCD production,” said assistant superintendent Park.  “It is very deplorable to see my students suffering.”

Leukemia and other cancers don’t require working at Samsung Electronics.  However, it is unusual for a disease to cluster at the same production line of the same plant in the same period.  The working conditions ten years ago at the production line that no longer exists is the point of contention between Samsung and former employees over whether to determine their medical conditions are occupational diseases.  Samsung and the government focus on the now-disintegrated production line, while the victims point to the decrepit machines used on the line.

“We deplore the death of Yun, a former colleague of ours,” said a Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. spokesperson.  However, he categorically denied any relationship between her disease and her job.  “Yun worked for just six months, including four months of apprenticeship.  She was responsible for mechanical operations, which did not require chemical processing.  Pre-employment health screening was not thorough enough to detect the symptoms of her condition,” the spokesperson said.  Countering Samsung, Yi Jong-ran, labor attorney with SHARPS, said: “Chemicals could have entered the air when Yun cut LCD panels.  Aplastic anemia has a short incubation phase and be caused by a short exposure to [hazardous materials].”

Concerning Yi and Kim, the Samsung spokesperson said, “The occurrences of the diseases should be measured against the number of graduates.  It does not appear scientific when you combine two different diseases to create causality because the two former employees went to the same school.”  Asked to measure the occurrences in a particular place, during a particular process and in a particular period, he answered that it made little sense.

Samsung proposed a public examination.  “SHARPS disclosed 137 workers whom it says have come out.  Their identities are not disclosed, and they came down to a disease at differing points of time. If who they are, what diseases to which they came down and what line of production they were are disclosed, we can examine their cases together,” said the spokesperson.  Says attorney Lee, “The Samsung Health Research Institute [a health research arm of Samsung Electronics] has proposed dialogue.  However, Samsung used money to stop the workers from requesting workers compensation and to drop lawsuits.  They did not do anything to build trust.  What dialogue is possible, given the situation?”

On June 14, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee paid respects at the mortuary of four Samsung C&T employees who were killed in a helicopter crash in Peru.  He told the conglomerate to revamp safety measures for Samsung employees working overseas.  There are fifty-six mortuaries the tycoon passed by.  A lack of dirt, all white, is not necessarily clean.  The girls’ dirt-free suits were dreadfully white.

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Activists representing thirty-seven labor rights and sustainability groups from across the globe held a three-day get-together outside Seoul on June 17-20, to share their common experiences in solidarity work and campaigns for a sustainable electronics industry.

At the three-day Global Meeting on a Sustainable Electronics Industry, the activists agreed that their movement is poised to grow thanks to the following reasons:

  • A rise in public awareness of environmental and occupational health, and workers rights;
  • The emergence of a new movement that may grow strong enough to change the lifecycle of  the global electronic industry;
  • The emergence of a new generation of activists such as SHARPS that is raising public awareness of occupational-disease clusters at multinational corporations such as Samsung and that is mounting strong pressure on the government to address the workers safety issue; and
  • An escalation in labor and environmental protests in China.

The activists also identified the weaknesses as follows:

  • A poor level of global coordination between activists compared with a highly integrated global electronics industry;
  • A poor level of resources among the activists compared with a rapidly expanding global electronics; and
  • A need to develop ways to better coordination in order to create synergy, minimize duplication and maximize the impact.

The activists on June 20 joined the daily picket mounted by bereaved families of Samsung leukemia victims, wrapping up Global Meeting on a Sustainable Electronics Industry.  The first-ever global networking conference was planned to mark the tenth anniversary of the International Campaign for Responsible Technology based in San Jose, California.

Global Meeting on a Sustainable Electronics Industry was  comprised of activists representing the following groups (in alphabetical order):

Altogether, Korea

Association of Injured Workers, Korea

Asia Monitor Resource Centre, Hong Kong

Association for Labour Rights Promotion (TALRIP), Thailand

Center for Development and Integration, Vietnam

Citizen of the Earth (CET), Taiwan

Consumer Association of Penang, Malaysia

Dasan Human Rights Center, Korea

Electronic Industry Employees Union Western Region (EIEU Western Region), Malaysia

Globalization Monitor, Hong Kong

Gyeonggi Irregular Workers Support Center, Korea

Hesperian, USA

Indonesian Metalworkers Union (FSPMI), Indonesia

International Campaign for Responsible Technology, USA

ITUC/GUF Hong Kong Liaison Office, Hong Kong

Korea Institute of Labor Safety and Health (KILSH), Korea

Korea Metal Workers Union (KMWU), Korea

Labor Education & Service Network, Hong Kong

Labour Action China, Hong Kong

Local Initiative for OSH Network (LION), Indonesia

National Alliance Federation of Independent Trade Union (NAFITU), Taiwan

NXP Union, Philippines

Oxfam, Vietnam

Pearl River Delta Worker Service Centre, China

People’s Solidarity for Social Progress (PSSP), Korea

Sedane Resource Center (LIPS) Indonesia

Solidarity Centre, Thailand

Supporters for Health and Rights of People in Semiconductor Industry (SHARPS), Korea

Taiwan Association for Victim of Association for Occupational Injuries (TAVOI), Taiwan

Taiwan Labor Information & Education Association, Taiwan

Texas Environment, USA

Thai Labor Campaign, Thailand

Wintex Union, Taiwan

Workers Assistance Centre, the Philippines

Worksafe, USA

Yokohama Action Research, Japan

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Dozens of sustainability activists and labor-rights advocates from across the globe rallied at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.’s headquarters in Seoul on June 20th, protesting inaction by the world’s largest electronics maker toward the occupational disease crisis at its plants.

About thirty international activists, who just wrapped up a three-day conference called Global Meeting on a Sustainable Electronics Industry,  joined pickets mounted by bereaved families of the workers who died of a variety of blood disorders which they allegedly contracted during employment with Samsung Electronics and its subsidiaries.

Activists from the U.S., China, Indonesia, Mexico and other nations carried pickets written in their native languages.  “We Want Green Phones, Not Killer Phones,” one English picket read.  “No More Deaths at Samsung,” read a sign in Spanish.

“During the past three days [of the conference] we have come to better understand that electronics workers are facing similar issues globally, against electronics giants,” Lee Jong-ran, a certified labor attorney with SHARPS, said, emphasizing the need for international solidarity.  “There was an outbreak of occupational disease at IBM factories in the Silicon Valley in the 1980s.  The same outbreak is now taking place at Samsung, and it will be likely happening in other parts of the world. ”

“[At the conference] we made a resolution to spread the word to every part of the world about the horrid march of death unfolding at Samsung,” she concluded.

A sudden summer rain did not dampen the spirits of solidarity .   “I wish for the agonies of Samsung victims to go away, and for the tears of their families to dry, just like a rain that has just come and gone,” Kong Jeong-ok, an MD with SHARPS, said in a voice choked with grief.

In related development, on June 19, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, an independent government human rights watchdog, filed a non-binding request with the South Korean government, calling for the Ministry of Employment and Labor to require employers to prove non-causality between employees’ working conditions and their diseases in order to deny requests for workers compensation.

Global Meeting on a Sustainable Electronics Industry took place outside Seoul on June 18-20, joined by representatives of more than thirty-six activist groups from ten countries.

SHARPS, Asia Monitoring Resource Centre of Hong Kong, Citizen of The Earth Taiwan, Good Electronics and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology jointly hosted the conference.


Dozens of global labor and sustainability activists on June 20 joined the bereaved families of Samsung victims mounting protests.

As of March 2012, SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia after employment in the electronics industry in South Korea.

As of June 2, 2012, of the 155, 63 have died.  The majority of the workers, 138, were employed at Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics and Samsung SDS—the three electronics affiliates of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate.  Among the 63 deaths were 56 Samsung employees.

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Another Samsung woman worker has lost her life to an occupational disease, the existence of which her employer still denies, and on which her government has turned its back.

Yun Seul-ki, 32 years old, died of aplastic anemia, the condition that she has been struggling for 13 years since she was 18.

Yun was taken to hospital last month, after experiencing necrosis of more than 70 percent of her hip joint.  Her death marks her as the 56th Samsung victim and the fourth in this year.

In November 1999, the 18-year-old Yun collapsed on the cleanroom floor, where for the previous five months she had been cutting chemically glazed liquid crystal display (LCD) panels.  In December of that year, diagnosed with aplastic anemia, she was asked to leave the job.

In the cleanroom of Samsung Electronics’ plant in the city of Chonan, the only protective gear that stood between her and hazardous chemicals were thin cotton gloves.  With bare eyes, she inspected the panels for cracks and cut them into size.  She said the room was always full of glass dust and chemical odors.

Yun lived through her twenties, helped by frequent blood transfusions.   She and her mother relied on $400-a-month government handouts for poor families.  Chronic poverty meant that she stood little chance of finding a marrow donor.

In April 2012, Samsung Electronics spun off the LCD unit, where Yun was employed, into a separate company, Samsung Display Co.  The spinoff is already the world’s biggest LCD maker.

Yun did not have a family history of blood disorder.  She passed the mandatory physical and medical exam performed on prospective employees at Samsung.

It just took a healthy young girl less than six months at Samsung to become fatally ill.  It pains us to ask how long and how many deaths it will take for Samsung and the South Korean government to act to put an end to the tragedy wrought on the young workers and their families.

As of March 2012, SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia after employment in the electronics industry in South Korea.


Yun Seul-ki’s family members enter into the ICU where she was pronounced dead–after 13 years of suffering from aplastic anemia. Her family wants to withhold  pictures of her.

As of June 2, 2012, of the 155, 63 have died.  The majority of the workers, 138, were employed at Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics and Samsung SDS—the three electronics affiliates of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate.  Among the 63 deaths were 56 Samsung employees.

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On March 6th, 2012, a Memorial Day was held in Seoul for deceased Samsung worker Hwang Yumi and all the other occupational deaths in Semiconductor/Electronics Industry…

Father of Hwang Yumi, a Samsung worker who died of leukemia five years ago. He was one of the first to realize the problem of occupational cancers and illnesses among Samsung workers and challenge Samsung to take responsiblity

You can see the original and more photos of SHARPs’ activities at their website here:


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Major developments in the Samsung victims’ struggle took place in June and July of 2011.

The government agency KCOMWEL (Korea Compensation & Welfare Services) was the defendant in the lawsuit brought by the families of the five Samsung workers who were victims of occupational cancer. On June 23, the Seoul Administrative Court rejected the previous judgment of KCOMWEL, finding the agency to be wrong in rejecting the link of two victims’ illness, to their workplace.

The victims were elated to finally get recognition for the two, though resisted the rejection of the other three.

Yet KCOMWEL has brazenly taken a second step against the workers whom it is mandated to protect – it has decided to appeal to the upper (High) Court. The deadline to lodge its appeal was July 15, and it submitted its appeal on July 14, just one day before the deadline.

The decision of KCOMWEL to appeal did not go without opposition from the victims, with the solidarity of SHARPS (victims and activists in solidarity with Samsung and other electronics industry disease victims). From July 5 to 7, the victims and SHARPS conducted a sit-in struggle at KCOMWEL office building, demanding “DO NOT APPEAL!”

On Thursday, July 7, the victims met the Chairperson of KCOMWEL, who promised “I’ll do my best” to consider not appealing, but that the final decision was up to the Public Prosecutor. The victims relied on this, and decided to stop the sit-in struggle to wait for the decision.

On July 12, SHARPs and the victims asked for another appointment. At 1 p.m. that day they heard the news clearly that indeed, KCOMWEL had decided to appeal. Thus the victims and activists decided to resume their struggle – and planned for a press conference on Wednesday. There, they would change their demand to say that KCOMWEL must withdraw their decision to appeal; and to announce that they would also appeal the three lost cases.

Yet on July 12, Samsung announced that THEY would have a press conference, regarding the report which they commissioned the consultancy ENVIRON to conduct regarding cancer link in Samsung workers.

On July 13, the victims’ group including SHARPs proceeded with their press conference, despite the heavy rain, and demanded 1) KCOMWEL should withdraw its appeal, but also 2) ENVIRON, should make its report public and must guarantee that at least four people be present at the conference: one victim from SHARPS; one activist, one professional (such as doctor) and one politician or their staff.

Afterwards, a call came to Dr. Kong from Samsung side, saying that only Dr. Kong could attend the ENVIRON press conference. Finally after reminding them of SHARPS demand, they agreed to let one more professional attend.

July 13 – the Victims and SHARPS agreed that Dr. Kong and Dr. Do-myung Paek would go, although it was less than ideal.

But a shocking thing happened during the night. At 10 p.m. all the victims were still in the KCOMWEL building, camped out there, while activists were on the street in their makeshift tent in the rain. Three victims’ families were on the first floor, while two victims’ families (Hwang and Jeong) were on the 5th floor, where the Chairperson’s office is.

The victim Kim Ok-yee fell ill, just after the doors were locked. Probably it was overexhaustion. Han Hye-gyoung’s mother took her out.

In the building only two were then left, Hwang and Jeong (Ae-jung). Then a call came to Dr. Kong, 20 men had come in a great rush, to pull her and Mr Hwang out of the building physically by force, from the 5th floor, down the elevator, and out. They threw her out of the building in the pouring rain. She was utterly shocked and lay on the pavement in the rain, crying out. Everyone in the group all felt her shock, and really worried about her mental well-being.

Thursday, July 14

The victims’ group split into two groups. One group of Dr. Kong and Dr. Paek, had to go to the ENVIRON press conference. The transport was arranged by Samsung. The two offered to sit in the bus with the media – but Samsung would only offer a separate vehicle – i.e., preventing the two from sitting in a same vehicle as journalists! So they decided finally to refuse the idea of taking Samsung’s transportation which would intentionally separate them from the media; and instead they went by themselves, using their own transport (the car of Dr. Paek).

The other group of victims and activists in SHARPS met to discuss what to do. They decided to stop the sit-in struggle and have a press conference. With the heavy pouring rain on the activists outside and the violence that was done to the victims inside… they felt they needed to protect themselves also.


ENVIRON press conference on July 14
10 a.m.

The conference was arranged entirely by Samsung and ENVIRON.

In a huge conference room, there were more than 100 media, including AP and other international media.

The MC, Kim Joon-sik, the Communications Team (PR) leader of Samsung, gave an introduction with the background and goal of the event.

He said the intention was to reveal the facts accurately, and that the results of the study were global top level, and that Samsung could guarantee its objectivity and transparency. He said, “We tried to check by all scientific methods on the debate re: Samsung Semiconductors’ working environment,” and added “We make today’s event to keep our promise to reveal the results transparently.”

In fact the session was to be from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., with 40 minutes for presentation and 20 minutes for Q&A. Of the 40 minutes, however, 15-20 minutes were spent to show a PR video of ENVIRON, basically showing how great, big and excellent ENVIRON is, and what it has achieved.

The CEO of ENVIRON, Mr. Stephen T. Washburn, introduced the results of the study, gave an overview and summarized the findings. According to him, the general conclusions were basically these two:
1) occupational exposure in manufacturing areas, in the current working environment. By their evaluation, these were significantly below the norm levels developed by some agencies.
2) According to studies done in the past, they reconstructed the working environment and the exposure levels of workers under past working conditions, based on the evidence of six workers with cancer, to determine their level of occupational exposure to carcinogens – i.e., to assess the likelihood that workplace exposure of previous times did increase the risk of cancer in those six specific workers. By the evaluation of ENVIRON, the scientific data did not support a link between workplace exposure and the diagnosed cancers.

Those six workers are the victims who had joined in the lawsuit against Samsung. One had dropped out, which was Park Ji-yeon, after Samsung had offered them some payment.

At the press conference, no handout materials were given of the presentation, and no photos, no cameras and no recording of any kind was allowed. At the end, only Samsung’s press release material was given out – the same content which has been repeated in many papers and internet articles now, saying that the scientific evidence proved no relationship between the cancers and the Samsung workplace. Even the photos in the media articles, are all only what Samsung had provided. The presentation was also written in English, and all was spoken in English; although there was Korean translation, it was still fast, and the whole press conference did not show that Samsung was sincerely trying to share the information so that it could be well understood.

In SHARPs’ own press release later, they gave the following criticisms and queries:

1) Was the ENVIRON report even proper for meeting its own original goals? Was it precise? Was it transparent?
2) According to issues we have been debating:
a. Contents are too poor – could not even answer the previous debated issues: 1) “current workplace” – cannot discuss scientifically without seeing the scientific evidence and data. 2) “reconstruction of the past” is based on KOSHA, the government’s and Samsung’s data, all of which we know have many limitations and disputes. Yet this was the data that was re-used and formed the base of the conclusion.
b. The manner of presentation. Out of 40 minutes, 15 min. was for the video, and 3-4 minutes for introduction and so on. Moreover the plan for the press conference was announced only two days in advance – while SHARPS was still in the sit-in strike, and while there was only one day left until the deadline for appeal (deadline was July 15) by KCOMWEL.
c. Limiting the number of the most direct stakeholders – the victims. Only two from SHARPS were allowed – Dr. Kong and Dr. Paek. They requested Samsung to share the presentation information beforehand, but even after the presentation, it was not shared.
3) The deception. Kwon O-hyun, CEO of Samsung Electronics DS (which includes both the semiconductor and LCD businesses) said he requested civil society organizations several times to attend, but they refused. Dr. Kong wants to ask: when, and which organizations did you ask?

Thus, we would like to know: what was the real purpose of this event? It was not to reveal, but to hide, facts. 1) the presentation was neither independent nor transparent, and 2) ENVIRON is known to have been paid by Philip Morris in 2009 to do a study, and 2010, M. Gough…

4) Samsung has a strong will to appeal. So what can we conclude?

The Samsung legal team leader says, this ENVIRON report is not related to the lawsuit. Yet Kwon O-hyun, CEO will focus on the scientific and medical, legal and causal relationship (between workplace and illness) in the next lawsuit. And the legal team leader said the position of Samsung as reference for the defendant KCOMWEL will be kept automatically without any specific demand. Thus the lawyers are working for the interest of the company, not of KCOMWEL. They have been working to prevent compensation.

And why THEN (the timing)? I.e., why did this press conference only happen on this date_ KCOMWEL has been pressured by SHARPS and victims, and also visited by several lawmakers. They must, but cannot, overcome the victims and political parties. At the same time, KCOMWEL got pressure from Samsung. Thus Samsung is tacitly saying: Brother KCOMWEL, we will support all the process, like before. I have “scientific’ support”, so KCOMWEL, go ahead and appeal!

Samsung has said that it provides medical support for employees, and will expand support even for resigned workers who are found to be ill. This is typical of the two ways Samsung avoids its responsibility for the health of its workers: 1) moral hazard (using influence over government agency KCOMWEL) and 2) give directly to victims.

Actually KCOMWEL should give out compensation, even without ‘evidence beyond a doubt’ of disease link. It is Samsung (and corporations generally) that wishes to force the standard of evidence to be so high, that just compensation of victims would be placed beyond their reach – leaving the company to continue endangering and killing its workers by neglect, year after year.

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