Samsung blasts claims of shirking responsibility in critical factory worker health issues

A report accusing Samsung of sidestepping accountability when its workers become sick has outraged the tech giant.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Samsung has blasted claims made in a recent report which suggests the company ignores, circumvents and avoids responsibility when factory employees become sick.

Last week, the Associated Press published a report which delved into the South Korean electronics giant's practices when it comes to employees who become ill in the workplace.

The report says that chemicals used in its semiconductor factories may be linked to increased rates of certain diseases -- such as leukaemia and various forms of cancer -- but Samsung is not holding itself accountable beyond promising some financial assistance to affected workers.

The AP says that the families of sick workers have "battled for years" to hold the company to account, but as media turned its gaze towards the plight of workers within Samsung's factories and leadership of the company moves to the son of Lee Kun-Hee, Lee Jae-yong, the victory -- albeit a partial one -- is better than nothing.

The establishment of an advisory panel in 2014 improved the situation. However, a rift has now appeared between the electronics giant and Banolim, the main advocacy group for employees potentially made ill due to workplace conditions at Samsung factories.

According to the publication, over 200 former employees at Samsung's semiconductor and liquid crystal display (LCD) factories -- which produce chips and displays for devices -- have approached Banolim for help after developing chronic illnesses.

In total, 72 of these people are reported to have died, many suffered from varieties of cancer and have died in their 20s and 30s.

Samsung will provide income and cover medical fees for workers suffering with one of 26 diseases in total. The AP says that so far, 120 people have applied for compensation -- but only a handful are from the numbers tracked by Banolim. A number of these employees received a settlement amount and agreed to not take Samsung to court.

Samsung hit the news agency with claims of its own, implying that information offered to the AP's reporters was left out. The company said it was "very disappointed" by the article and the firm was only "trying to do the right thing" by offering support to sick employees.

The tech giant states there is simply no link between workplace conditions and chronic diseases, but "financial support is being provided regardless of causation."

In addition, Samsung says the number of ill employees tracked by Banolim is "unverified."

Benzene, a chemical which is found in crude petroleum and linked to cancer in humans, was only monitored in Samsung factories from 2012. Furthermore, the AP says the firm "use[s] hundreds of chemicals that have not always been disclosed or monitored."

However, the company says under South Korean law, businesses must disclose harmful chemicals in factory settings, and benzene "has never been used in our facilities and has not been detected since we started monitoring."

The AP also reported that Samsung rejected proposals to establish an independent organization to "oversee compensation and monitor safety and preventive measures at its factories." However, Samsung says there are valid reasons for this -- namely the existence of an $85.8 million fund for financial aid, of which up to 30 percent would be consumed by establishing the committee.

"Samsung Electronics believes the greatest percentage of the fund possible should be directed toward providing financial aid," Samsung insists. "For this reason, we believe that it is in the best interest of families and patients to direct more funds to meeting their needs, which cannot be achieved through an independent fund."

Finally, the AP says that no support is awarded to workers who suffer miscarriages or infertility potentially caused by working in Samsung's factories, unlike homegrown rival SK Hynix -- but Samsung says the firm is already "aiding current employees with such hardships."

In September, Samsung opened a new headquarters in the United States to strengthen its position in the semiconductor market. The US and Europe are two key areas for growth in Samsung's business plan.

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