Samsung Apologises Over Cancer Cases


Samsung is to compensate employees who developed cancer after working at its semiconductor factories

Samsung has issued an apology and offered compensation to workers at its factories who developed cancer, in a reversal of the company’s previous stance on the controversy.

The company also said it would cease supporting a government compensation agency in its legal battles to avoid paying compensation to workers. The South Korean government’s fund for workplace accident and illness compensation is funded by companies’ contributions.
Samsung chip logo

Public controversy

Public pressure over the issue has grown since the release earlier this year of Another Promise, a donation-funded film that dramatised the case of one of the workers, Hwang Yu-mi, who died of leukaemia in 2007 at the age of 23 after working in a Samsung semiconductor factory south of Seoul. Hwang’s father has insisted that her death was due to exposure to dangerous chemicals at the plant.

Samsung vice-chairman Kwon Oh-hyun stopped short of admitting a direct link between the company’s practices and the cancer cases, but expressed “regret” that the company had not moved to resolve the matter sooner.

“We feel regret that a solution for this delicate matter has not been found in a timely manner, and we would like to use this opportunity to express our sincerest apology to the affected people,” Kwon stated. “We will make due compensation to the victims and the families.”

Samsung is the world’s largest maker of smartphones and memory chips.

The company said it would follow the compensation guidelines of an independent adjudicator, which would decide how to deal with each case with consent from victims and families. The company said it would set up an independent panel to hold health and safety inspections of its chip plants.

Compensation battle

Agence France-Presse has reported that about 40 employees have filed claims with the state Korean Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service over the issue in the past six years.

In April politician Sim Sang-jung proposed a resolution calling upon Samsung and the government to apologise over 243 cases since the 1990s in which semiconductor factory workers have developed or died from rare cancers. The resolution said that 114 of these cases involved former Samsung employees.

Courts have ruled in favour of compensation in three cases, but the Korea Workers Compensation and Welfare Service is continuing to appeal these cases, according to a report by The Guardian. Samsung said on Wednesday it would no longer back the service in its appeals.

A 2011 ruling by a Seoul court found that toxic chemicals had “caused, or at least expedited” the illnesses of Yu-mi and others.

Sticking point

Sharp, the advocacy group that has campaigned over the issue, and politician Sim welcomed Samsung’s apology and urged it to begin compensation discussions.

“This is a starting point for us to address Samsung leukemia-related issues,” Sim was quoted as saying by The Korea Times.

In April, talks between Samsung and workers over the issue were reportedly continuing to stall. However, the issue is reportedly one that Lee Kun-hee, Samsung’s 72-year-old chairman and the son of the company’s founder, wants to resolve before passing leadership of the company to his own son.

Lee is currently recovering in hospital following a heart attack on Saturday.

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