Samsung to compensate workers sick from working in plants

After years of denying responsibility, Korean smartphone giant now promises to offer adequate compensation for employees who died of or developed leukemia from working at the company's semiconductor plants.

SHARPS website lists employees who died after working at Samsung Electronics.

Samsung Electronics has pledged to offer "adequate compensation" for employees who apparently died of or developed leukemia from working at the smartphone maker's semiconductor manufacturing plants. 

The move means it has dropped all related litigation and ended years of denying responsibility for the death of several employees who developed cancer while working at Samsung's chip production sites. 

"We feel heartbroken... Samsung has neglected pains and difficulties of the victims and their families. We offer our sincere apologies to them for not resolving the problem earlier," Samsung Electronics' co-CEO and vice chairman, Kwon Oh- hyun, told local reporters at a media briefing Wednesday in Seoul. 

"Workers contracted leukemia and other incurable diseases and some died. Their dedication has helped Samsung to become what it is today," Kwon said. "We will make adequate compensation to employees who suffered and died from work-related illnesses, working for Samsung Electronics' factories."

The consumer electronics subsidiary is the group's financial cash cow, contributing over 75 percent of Samsung's total profit and revenue in 2013. The business unit comprises its smartphone business, as well as memory chips and televisions.    

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According to local lobby group Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry (SHARPS), at least 26 employees at Samsung had developed blood cancer, specifically leukemia and lymphoma, and of these, 10 had died. 

The first case emerged in 2007 when Hwang Yu-mi, who was employed at the Gi-heung plant in October 2003, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. She died in March 2007 at age 23. 

Families of the affected workers had taken Samsung to court unsuccessfully over the past seven years with demands for compensation. Two families had won a compensation suit in 2011, but Samsung filed an appeal against the ruling. 

Wednesday's turnaround comes as Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee remains in hospital after suffering a heart attack earlier this week. 

According to the Korean smartphone maker, it had spent more than US$90 million since 2011 to improve working conditions at its production facilities. 

Local politician Sim Sang-jung, who is a representative of minor opposition Justice Party, recently said she was proposing a bill to push Samsung to apologize and compensate affected workers. 

IDC projections put Samsung's global smartphone shipment at 85 million in the first quarter of 2014, leading the overall market which clocked 281.5 million units. Second-placed Apple shipped 43.7 million.