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.”
Mr. Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment
Rue de la Loi 200, B- 1049 Brussels
Dear Commissioner Potočnik,
This is a follow up to the letter we sent you on July 22 from over 100 civil society groups around the world. We are collectively writing again – this time with almost 160 signatures, to register our ongoing deep concerns with the revised proposal for prioritizing hazardous materials for future restrictions. We acknowledge and welcome the Commission’s listing of PVC on the priority list since PVC presents hazards during its manufacturing, use and end of life phase plus it is a well known precursor to the formation of chlorinated dioxins/furans. It is important that PVC is therefore assessed at the upcoming stakeholder meeting on October 28, 2013.
However, the Commission is still not comprehensively addressing the problem of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants as a class of hazardous materials. This is particularly perplexing because the EU Commission’s own consultants have demonstrated that these substances fulfill the criteria for restriction and should be prioritised for evaluation due to the methodology developed. The proposed piecemeal approach prioritizes a small number of obscure and less significant chemicals that will not solve the health and environmental challenges posed by the entire class.
As Chemsec points out: no groups have been included on the prioritisation list even though the report clearly shows that brominated and chlorinated flame-retardants (BFRs and CFRs), as well as organochlorines, organobromines and chloroalkanes, fulfil the criteria of the RoHS directive and have representative substances that meet the human health or environmental hazard criteria set out in the methodology. more details click here
When South Korean director Kim Tae-yun said he wanted to make a film about workers who came down with leukemia and other rare diseases during the time they worked at Samsung Electronics Co. factories, just about everyone told him he would struggle to secure financial backing.
Two years later, the film has premiered at the ongoing Busan International Film Festival‒in part thanks to crowd-sourced funds from nearly 7,000 individuals who paid for more than a quarter of the billion-won ($932,700) budget. Close to half was self-funded and the rest has been made as IOUs.
It marks a rare coup for Korean cinema, where independent producers struggle to secure funding without support from major film studios. Critics say close family and business ties between major movie companies and the nation’s biggest corporations prevent films with negative portrayals of those conglomerates from being made.
Titled “Another Family,” the film is based on a true story of a working-class family whose daughter went to work at Samsung semiconductor factory, contracted leukemia during her time there and died from the disease in 2007.
Sep 06, 2013
Nokia Siemens Network (NSN) is not respecting workers’ rights in India. Cividep India and the GoodElectronics Network tried to engage with NSN but found the company unresponsive. This summer, talks between the workers’ union and NSN factory management failed. When workers and union representatives staged a protest in front of the NSN factory gate in Oragadam, Sriperumbudur, more then 70 people were arrested. According to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the NSN management took a hardline position, refusing to recognise and engage with the representatives of the Nokia Siemens Networks Workers Union.
Following the failure of talks between the workers’ union and factory management, more than 70 workers and union representatives were arrested after protesting in front of the Nokia Siemens Network (NSN) factory gate in Oragadam, Sriperumbudur, India in June 2013. According to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the management took a hardline position, refusing to recognise and engage with the representatives of Nokia Siemens Networks Workers Union.
Five workers terminated
NSN has also decided to terminate the employment of five workers suspended last year for engaging in union activities. The workers have been staging protests against the factory relentlessly for more than a year, demanding wage hikes, reinstatement of the suspended workers and recognition of the union.
NSN refusal to recognise trade union
In a letter sent to the GoodElectronics Network, Cividep India and Finnwatch, NSN states that it will not recognise a ”politically affiliated” union and that it ”prefers direct discussions and negotiations with employee representatives”. NSN has failed to explain what it conceives to be a politically affiliated union, and whether the employee representatives that are deemed fit for negotiations are democratically elected by workers or selected by the management.
Refusal to recognise a trade union such as CITU not only constitutes a violation of ILO convention C87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining and Indian labour law, but is also a violation of the company’s own Code of Conduct. The Nokia Siemens Network Code of Conduct (p. 4) clearly states the following – “Among those rights that Nokia Siemens Networks views as fundamental and universal are: freedom from discrimination on any grounds; freedom from arbitrary detention, execution or torture; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and freedom of opinion and expression” [emphasis added].
Freedom of association is an internationally recognised labour right and also recognised as such in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, including labour rights, and must let workers exercise their right of collective bargaining. It cannot be left to the company to decide whether or not to engage with a democratically elected union.
NSN has further declared that five of the suspended workers have not been re-instated because they have “acted against the code of conduct and violated the company’s disciplinary principles”. However, the company has failed to specify which provisions the employees have violated and how.
In a letter sent to Nokia Siemens Network on 8 July 2013 on behalf of the GoodElectronics Network and the makeIT fair project, Cividep India and Finnwatch raised serious concerns about the company’s statements and actions. NSN has had ample time to respond to the letter and clarify whatever misunderstandings there may have been. However, the only response from NSN has been that all of the 70 arrested workers were released by the police on the same day. It remains unclear whether they have returned to work at NSN and what consequences they may have faced due to their participation in the strike.
In line with the position of the Nokia Siemens Networks Workers Union, the following demands are formulated to Nokia Siemens Network:
- Respect workers’ rights to unionise and to bargain collectively
- Recognise the Nokia Siemens Networks Workers Union
- Meet workers’ demands for an increment in wages so that they are paid a living wage
- Immediate re-instatement of the five suspended workers.
Click here to read news article on GoodElectronics website.