On July 23, 2015, a formal Mediation Committee established by Samsung and civil society groups issued its ground breaking recommendations to compensate the hundreds of workers who became ill while working at Samsung and to implement innovative prevention policies to protect their workers in the future. More than 70 workers have died due to work related illnesses at Samsung, according to SHARPS, an occupational health advocacy group in South Korea. While critical of some of the compromise aspects of the Committee’s recommendations, SHARPS has embraced the decision.
Samsung has agreed to the Committee’s recommendation to provide 100 billion won ($85.8 million), but has rejected the core recommendation — the funding of an independent non-profit foundation — that was the committee’s primary recommendation for implementing the victims compensation and to develop and implement steps to prevent the recurrence of the disease.
We endorse this Open Letter and call on Samsung to accept its corporate social responsibility by accepting the Mediation Committee’s recommendation to establish and fund the independent body to implement the decision.
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In 2007, Yu-mi Hwang, 22 year-old woman who had worked at Samsung’s Gijeung semiconductor plant, died of leukemia. Shortly after her death, her co-worker who shared a work bay with Yu-mi died, also of leukemia, at age 30. Yu-mi’s father suspected that the two deaths were connected to their exposure to toxic chemicals on the job and began a years’ long campaign for justice for his daughter and other Samsung workers similarly afflicted. His work with SHARPS led to the discovery that over 200 workers have been affected by their toxic exposures and more than 70 of them have died so far.
While Samsung repeatedly denied any responsibility for the leukemias and others illnesses, South Korean Courts began ruling in favor of the workers. Samsung finally issued a public apology in May 2014 to affected workers and their families, marking a turning point in a dispute that has lasted nearly a decade.
Shortly thereafter, the Mediation Committee was established to resolve problems connected with the outbreak of leukemia, lymphoma, and other diseases at semiconductor factories and other facilities operated by Samsung Electronics.
The committee’s report includes 4 key substantive recommendations:
- Compensation to all victims of 100 billion won ($85.8 million)
- An apology
- Specific measures to prevent diseases in the future and a pledge to maintain a healthy workplace
- Fund an independent non-profit organization to objectively carry out these recommendations.
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More background on the significance of this case:
The key issues have been described in a recent editorial in The Hankyoreh newspaper in Seoul:
“the scope of compensation had been one of the most disputed issues, and the end result seems to more or less follow in line with what the victims have been asking for. The committee’s recommendation sets the minimum working period at one year and increases the list of conditions covered to twenty-eight. Also notable is the fact that strict proof of causality will not be required for rare and crippling diseases provided a connection with hazardous materials can be established. Many in the past criticized the industrial accident criteria demanded for semiconductor plant diseases as medically unfeasible, and denounced the irrationality of a system that requires the victim to prove the connection between the working environment and the disease. Hopefully these recommendations will be a step toward fixing that mistake.
“One of the recommendations was to put a public interest corporation funded by donations from Samsung Electronics, among others, in charge of compensation and preventive measures. To prevent this kind of unfortunate situation from happening again will require not only Samsung Electronics following its stated internal disaster management system improvement plans to the letter, but also examination and monitoring efforts from outside. If only to allow for an objective analysis of the hazardous material situation at production sites, the principles and standards of information disclosure need to be clearly applied in a way that does not let businesses hide behind “business secrets.” It’s a system that should be applied at other workplaces besides Samsung Electronics.”