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Samsung must engage with unions to improve safety

After an 11-year struggle by SHARPS, a South Korean advocacy group which represents affected workers, Samsung Electronics has made a formal apology and finally offered compensation to former and current workers who have suffered serious occupational diseases, including lung cancer and leukemia, as a result of being exposed to chemicals at its semiconductor and LCD plants since 1984.

“It has taken far too long for the company to apologize – eleven years too long. Samsung should apologize for denying its employees trade union freedoms. The right to know about dangers in the workplace and the right to have an independent trade union are crucial preconditions for any long-term meaningful system of prevention,” said a spokesperson for IndustriALL affiliate, the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU).

In 2007 Yumi Hwang died from leukemia after working at a Samsung Electronics chip factory, triggering alarm at the hazards workers were being exposed to in the company’s factories. 

SHARPS has since documented hundreds of Samsung workers with serious work-related illnesses – including cancer, blood disorders, pulmonary conditions, and miscarriage. Samsung ignored these workers, many of whom have died, and refused accept responsibility or pay compensation. However, on 23 November 2018, Samsung president, Kinam Kim, offered an apology to “workers who have suffered with illnesses and their families” also mentioning that the company failed to “sufficiently manage health threats”.

Speaking after the compensation announcement on 1 November, Yumi’s father, Sang-gi Hwang, said:

“Workers’ compensation is important but more important is prevention. The right to know and participate for all workers and members of the community – so workers can know what chemical substances they are using – must be guaranteed by strengthening the Industrial Safety and Health Act.”

Instead of making improvements, KMWU says Samsung has been shifting hazardous work down the supply chain and to factories abroad. KMWU is calling for stronger laws to hold multinational corporations accountable for abuses throughout their supply chains. 

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL’s General Secretary says:

“Samsung should respect fundamental trade union rights and engage with union representatives to ensure health and safety and guarantee workers’ rights at all Samsung Electronics’ facilities. The management should know that the union will make the workplace safer.” 

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