Samsung consents to conclusive arbitration on leukemia victims’ dispute
SEOUL — Samsung Electronics and South Korean labor advocacy group SHARPS have agreed to unconditionally accept a mediation body’s proposed compensation plan for those who contracted serious illnesses, including leukemia, while working at Samsung’s semiconductor and display production sites.
Samsung Electronics said Sunday that the two sides have agreed to accept without objection an “arbitration plan” to be proposed by a state-appointed legal body, and effectively end an 11-year-old dispute over occupational illnesses at the tech giant.
Samsung and SHARPS — Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry — will formally seal the agreement in a ceremony Tuesday, a Samsung Electronics spokesperson told The Korea Herald.
The mediation body will then deliberate on the issue for two months and announce its final resolution sometime from the end of September to early October, which both sides will accept without protest. Based on this, Samsung will take due compensatory action and conclude the process by the end of October, he said.
The resolution is expected to include details on compensation for those affiliated with SHARPS, measures to compensate for new occupational illnesses that may arise in the future, Samsung Electronics’ formal apology and a halt to SHARPS’ demonstrations, according to local news reports.
Over the years, Samsung and SHARPS, known as “Banolim” in Korean, have been unable to negotiate a mutually acceptable resolution on the issue, mainly due to differences over liability and causality.
To break the prolonged impasse, the legal mediation body — led by Kim Ji-hyung, a progressive former Supreme Court justice — is said to have pushed the two sides to accept its proposed resolution, without leaving room for further dispute.
The Samsung leukemia victim case dates back to 2007, when Hwang Yu-mi, who worked for four years bathing silicon wafers in chemicals at Samsung Electronics’ semiconductors factory, died of leukemia at the age of 22.
Convinced the death was caused by occupational hazards, Yu-mi’s father Hwang Sang-ki initiated a social movement demanding the government investigate health risks at Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor and liquid crystal display production sites.
The same year, SHARPS was formed to represent former workers at Samsung as well as those at other semiconductor and LCD companies who claim to have contracted serious illnesses such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple sclerosis due to occupational hazards.
They have claimed that Samsung has denied them complete access to facility reports carrying crucial information on potentially culpable workplace conditions needed to prove their case on grounds of trade secrets.
According to data released by SHARPS in June, the advocacy group has documented more than 360 cases of work-related disease between June 2007 and May 2018. So far, 99 lawsuits have been filed seeking damages for occupational diseases, and 29 have been successful, it said.
The Samsung spokesperson said the firm has already managed to settle some 130 occupational disease compensation cases involving workers not affiliated with SHARPS, and hopes to reach a “complete resolution” through the recent agreement reached with the advocacy group.
Despite the perception that it is a largely automated and “clean” process, semiconductor production involves the use of various toxic chemicals and solvents.
Recent research, conducted by institutions such as the state-run Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency, has shown correlations between continued exposure to such chemicals and increases in the occurrence of rare diseases.
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