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Hazards, number 142, 2018
Samsung blues: Global action against rights and safety violator Samsung
Global electronics giant Samsung has been targeted by safety and labour standards campaigners over its deadly record of abuse. An international day of action against the company on 1 May 2018 saw its bad practices exposed once more in Asia, Europe and the United States.


Samsung was presented with several petitions with over 200,000 signatures calling on the company to protect their hundreds of thousands of electronics factory workers around the world. The action comes on the heels of Samsung’s toxic fightback, where it has issued a lawsuit against the South Korean government in a move intended to prevent public disclosure of information on its use of hazardous chemicals.

Coordinators of the day of action, including the global trade union confederation ITUC, say chemically intensive electronics production leads to workers developing sometimes deadly occupational diseases as a result of workplace exposures to carcinogens, neurotoxins and other hazards. ITUC has accused the company of having ‘lost its moral compass.’

The global coalition of unions, labour and environmental rights groups is demanding Samsung “publicly withdraw threats against workers and civil society groups, disclose all chemicals used in its factories, desist from efforts to suppress information, use safer alternatives, and guarantee workers’ right to organise independent trade unions.”

The groups are also calling for the South Korean government to bring Samsung into line. “President Moon’s leadership and commitment to human and labour rights is critical to ensuring respect for the rights of millions of workers in the region producing goods and providing services to multinational companies,” said ITUC’s Sharan Burrow.

At least 118 Samsung factory workers in South Korea have died from occupational illnesses including cancer since 2007.

The same human rights and safety abuses are now attracting criticism at the company’s factories in Vietnam. Pressure on Samsung’s operations in Vietnam has been growing since the publication in November 2107 of a highly critical report from the Hanoi-based Research Centre for Gender, Family, Environment and Development (CGFED) and IPEN, a global network of environment and health NGOs working to reduce and eliminate harmful chemicals. The report showed workers were not protected from the toxic chemicals used to manufacture the latest Samsung mobile phones.

CGFED’s Pham Thi Minh Hang commented: “The women we interviewed endure ongoing labour code violations, workplace dangers and health hazards. All the women reported dizziness or fainting at work. This is not normal. They reported inhumane overtime and intense production demands.” She added: “Workers are often prevented from speaking out about their working conditions by company rules that claim all expressions about life inside the factory constitute trade secrets.”

In March 2018, UN human rights experts expressed their concern about the harassment and intimidation of Samsung workers in Vietnam who spoke about their conditions at work. Those raising concerns have been asked to present themselves to government authorities and threatened with lawsuits.


GLOBAL PROTEST   A 1 May 2018 day of action against Samsung was backed by organisations including the global union confederation ITUC, South Korea-based Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry (SHARPS), CDI and CGFED in Vietnam, the Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor and Resource Centre (AMRC), Green America and the global campaign groups Good Electronics, the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT) and IPEN, the campaign for a toxics-free future.


KOREA CONCESSIONS  In the face of a well-informed and vocal campaign coordinated by SHARPS, the South Korean government and courts have accepted cases of sometimes fatal occupational diseases are the result of work in Samsung factories and have approved state compensation payouts (Hazards 110).


UNION PROTEST The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has urged South Korean president Moon Jae-in to challenge labour abuses by Samsung. In a March 2018 letter to the Korean leader, ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “From covering up the name of industrial chemicals that induce workers’ deaths and illness in the interests of ‘trade secrets’, to a no-union policy across its Asian electronics industry, Samsung relies on a business model that has lost its moral compass.”


INHUMAN RIGHTS A March 2018 report by the United Nations’ human rights office  criticised Samsung’s practices in Vietnam, including victimising whistleblowers and suppressing information on hazardous exposures to prevent its sick workers from receiving government compensation. The UN human rights experts warned “it is unacceptable that researchers or workers reporting on what they consider to be unhealthy and inadequate.


REAL PRICE Former Samsung employee Kim Mi-seon, 36 (left), started a lawsuit in 2013, after the official South Korean compensation agency KCOMEL refused to recognise her multiple sclerosis (MS) as a work-related illness (Hazards 137). In a 2017 judgment, judge Lee Gyu-hun overturned the KCOMEL decision, finding in her favour. At least four former Samsung workers are accepted to have developed MS as a result of their exposures.


FIRST VICTIM Hwang Yu-mi, (above) who died aged 23 of leukaemia in 2007, was the first publicly acknowledged victim of Samsung's deadly workplace conditions. Since then at least 118 deaths have been caused by hazardous exposures at the company’s factories in South Korea. Exposures have been linked to a range of cancers, anaemia and respiratory and nervous system disorders.



VISIBLE PROBLEM The electronics industry is facing a major public relations headache as a result of its toxic negligence, which has seen critical UN human rights reports, documentaries and films and worldwide protests. In 2017, multimedia artist Robin Bell exposed the industry’s dangerous practices with projections on the Apple stores on Fifth Avenue and West 14th in New York City


DIRTY SECRETS ‘Stories from the Clean Room’ is a documentary from South Korea revealing the dirty secrets of the electronics industry. Twenty-three former factory workers tell their personal stories of toxic workplace exposures, corporate malfeasance, and their fight for justice.



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Samsung blues

Global electronic giant Samsung has been targeted by safety and labour standards campaigners over its deadly record of abuse. An international day of action against the company on 1 May 2018 saw its bad practices exposed once more in Asia, Europe and the United States.

Hazards webpages
Working world

Samsung campaign facebook page
Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry (SHARPS)
Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC)
Good Electronics
International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT)
ITUC Samsung Exposed campaign
Modern Technology, Medieval Conditions, an ITUC report on Samsung’s operations worldwide, September 2016.
Stories of Women Workers in Vietnam’s Electronics Industry, report by CGFED and IPEN, November 2017.
Complicit, a film by Heather White and Lynn Zhang.

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