Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’


JK Shin, CEO and president of Samsung’s mobile unit, unveiled GALAXY S4 in New York in March 2013.

TCO Development, a global sustainability certification agency of information technology, has launched a probe into its decision to accord sustainability certification to the GALAXY  S4, the flagship smartphone of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., the Stockholm-based agency said in a press release on June 5.


TCO’s decision came one day after a joint call made by global sustainability and workplace safety advocates to rescind TCO Certified, the Swedish agency’s brand certification, for Samsung’s latest smartphone.  The GALAXY S4 is the first smartphone certified by TCO for sustainability.  “TCO’s action amounts to ‘greenwashing of the worst kind,’” said Sanjiv Pandita, executive director of Asia Monitor Resource Center in Hong Kong, in a press statement jointly released by SHARPS and twenty-four advocacy groups globally.

Corrective Action?

In the statement, the activists pointed to the ongoing blood disorder cluster at Samsung and the recent fatal chemical leaks at its semiconductor plant.  TCO said it would demand “corrective action of Samsung” if its probe concluded the activists’ accusations “can apply to” the GALAXY S4.

TCO appears unlikely to retract its certification of Samsung unless international pressure further intensifies.

Even with its own criteria for smartphone certification, TCO would find it hard to justify its certification of the GALAXY S4 or its response to the subsequent international criticism of the certification.  One criterion stipulates that the applicant for the certification comply with UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 32.  A search of “Samsung” and “labor” on Google turns up literally hundreds of news articles and blog entries on Samsung’s recent use of child labor in China.


Sören Enholm, CEO of TCO Development which accorded GALAXY S4 sustainability certification, despite Samsung’s ongoing labor and sustainability issues.

Samsung’s Glee Amid Its Terrible Sustainability Records

Samsung gleefully received news of its TCO certification.  “The demand for environmentally friendly products informed our decision making process when we were creating the GALAXY S4,” said JK Shin, CEO and president of Samsung’s mobile unit, in a press release. “We are delighted to be the first smartphone manufacturer to be TCO Certified as this validates our approach to sustainability.”

However, it is highly likely that the CTO-certified GALAXY S4 is made of chips assembled at the Hwaseong plant where the government turned up 1,934 safety violations in January 2013, and a  touchscreen cut to size at  the Chonan plant of Samsung Display where Yun Seul-ki passed out on the floor in November 1999, only five months after working with little protective gear.

Explain And Apologize

How and why can any Samsung product be sustainability-certified by any measure?  TCO and Samsung owe global consumers an explanation and an apology.

The joint statement in opposition to the TCO certification is initially endorsed by the following groups:

Asia Monitor Resource Center,   Hong Kong

SHARPS,   South Korea


ICRT: International Campaign for Responsible Technology, San Jose, CA USA

Asian Transnational Corporation Monitoring Network,   Hong Kong

Good Electronics  Amsterdam, Netherlands

COSH    United States

Hazards Campaign, United Kingdom

Electronics TakeBack Coalition, the United States

FNV, Netherlands

Labor Education Foundation, Pakistan

Cereal, Guadalajara, Mexico

Maquiladora Safety and Health Support Network, United States


WorkSafe     the United States

EHN, India

Hesperian Health Guides, United States

RightOn, Canada


Labor Action China, Hong Kong

IOHSAD, the Philippines

Setem, Spain

Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas, USA

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In April 2010, Dutch fund manager APG Asset Management and seven other global investors jointly engaged Samsung, following the death of Park Ji-yeon, a 23-year-old semiconductor assembler of the company.

Global activist funds have taken issue with the employment of child labor by Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., the Hankyoreh, South Korea’s independent daily, reported Sept. 18.

“We sent an inquiry to Samsung in August when allegations of Samsung’s use of child labor in China first surfaced,” the newspaper quoted a source of APG Asset Management, of the Netherlands, as saying.  “Employment of child labor won’t be tolerated.  If the allegations turn out to be true we will discontinue investment [in Samsung].”

Confirming receipt of the inquiry, Samsung spokesperson Park Cheon-ho told the Hankyoreh, “APG and other institutional investors requested us to explain the allegations against us.”  He added, “we said there is no child labor [at Samsung], but there is an issue of excessive overtime, which we will examine and address.”

This is not the first time APG, the world’s third-largest pension administrator by assets, has raised concerns about poor labor practices at Samsung.  In April 2010, the Dutch fund manager and seven other global investors jointly engaged Samsung, following the death of Park Ji-yeon, a 23-year-old semiconductor assembler of the company.

However, the effects of the institutional investors’ engagement were limited.  APG said afterwards: “The outcome was not altogether positive.” The institutional investors said, “From the day our engagement started, reports trickled in of Samsung’s behind-the-scenes negotiating with its ailing ex-employees and the families of the deceased.  Local media reported that the company had tried to buy off the case.”

APG concluded, “All in all, we are not satisfied with Samsung’s response so far.”

And young workers have continued to die. During the two years since the global institutional investors’ joint intervention in 2010, the number of victims of Samsung’s leukemia/blood disorder clusters has more than doubled to 56 from 22.

With rising concerns globally about Samsung’s negligence of human rights, SHARPS’s campaign is entering into a new stage.

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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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An attempt by an independent publisher to get the word out about more than a hundred victims of occupational diseases at Samsung has hit an unexpected snag, after most of South Korea’s handful of independent media outlets refused to take advertisements for a set of two comic books about the outbreak of a variety of blood disorders at Samsung’s electronics affiliates.

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

Of the 155, 62 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 62 deaths were 55 Samsung employees.

In April 2012, Bori Publication Co., Ltd. approached about six independent print and online publications to place ads for two comics, The Smell of Humanity and A Dustless Room.  Only two publications, online daily Pressian and independent daily Hankyoreh’s Internet TV unit Hani TV, took the ads.  One publication rejected the ad after the publisher refused to remove references to Samsung from copy.  Another publication rejected it, citing a conflict of interest between sponsors because Samsung is also a sponsor.  A third publication demanded high premiums for the ads.

Samsung controls the lion’s share in the advertisement market.  According to a survey, in 2008 the Samsung Group made up 40 percent of a total marketing and advertisement expenses of the country’s ten largest chaebols, or family-owned conglomerates.

Paradoxically, their financial vulnerability often leaves smaller and independent media more susceptible to Samsung’s pressure, tacit or otherwise.  In fairness, the six publications ran favorable reviews of the two comic books.

The Smell of Humanity is about the father of a 21-year-old woman worker who died of leukemia after having working for two years at a semiconductor lab of Samsung Electronics.

A Dustless Room is about how Samsung’s clean rooms, where semiconductors are produced in an isolated environment, were designed and run to protect the integrity of chips at the cost of the workers’ safety.


The Smell of Humanity and A Clean Room, the two comic books about victims of occupational diseases at Samsung

Bori and SHARPS are relying on word of mouth and Twitter for the promotion of the books.  The Smell of Humanity and A Dustless Room currently rank second and third on the top 100 comic books on Aladdin.co.kr, one of South Korea’s largest online bookstores.

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