Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. has finally made a public apology to the victims of a leukemia cluster at its chip plants and promised compensation for them — seven years after the SHARPS campaign borne out of the death of Hwang Yu-mi, the first publicly known victim of the cluster, and six months after stalled negotiations with the victims’ families and the advocate group.
Apology without Concession
In a cautiously worded statement May 13, Samsung vice chairman and CEO Kwon Oh-hyun said the world’s biggest technology company should have sought a solution sooner, but stopped short of conceding a direct link between the company’s lax safety measures and the outbreak of leukemia and other blood diseases among workers at its chip plants.
Mr. Kwon said Samsung would discontinue intervention in workers’ compensation lawsuits filed by the victims. In the past seven years, the company used an army of high-paid lawyers to delay and derail the legal proceedings until the victims and their families were exhausted emotionally and financially.
Mr. Kwon’s apology fell short of promising to withdraw a number of civilian and criminal charges the company has pressed against the victims’ families and SHARPS activists for picketing the company or holding rallies.
Mr. Kwon’s statement corroborated the proposal made by Sim Sang-jeung, a former labor activist and a lawmaker of the minor Justice Party. Mr. Kwon promised to compensate the victims directly via an arbitration body that he said was proposed by Ms. Sim and SHARPS. However, SHARPS is not party to Ms. Sim’s proposal.
SHARPS cautiously welcomed Mr. Kwon’s statement. In a statement <Korean> posted on its website, the advocacy group reiterated its call for Samsung to restart negotiations with SHARPS. The negotiations have been stalled since December 18 of last year.
The following are full English translations of the statements by SHARPS and Mr. Kwon of Samsung [All brackets are added by the translator]:
SHARPS on the May 14 Statement by Samsung
1. We welcome the statement for the following reasons:
—Because Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. admitted that there are “employees [of Samsung] who became ill or died as a result what can be suspected of workplace accidents.”
— Because it admitted that it had been negligent in [addressing] their pain and hardships.
—Because it decided to stop intervention in workers compensation claims [filed by the victims]
—Because it promised to earnestly seek not only ways to compensate the victim but also measures to prevent the recurrence [of industrial accidents.]
2. However, a third, new arbitration body is not part of our proposal, which we have repeatedly clarified on April 14 and 17. It is regrettable that Samsung claimed that the arbitration body is part of our proposal.
3. Nevertheless, we expect Samsung will use the statement as its primary step toward a sincere solution to the [occupational disease] issue.
4. As such, we propose the following:
—Restart dialogue, stalled for five months, with SHARPS.
—Accept SHARPS as [formal] negotiator and comply in good faith with our demands.
The Statement By Kwon Oh-hyun, vice chairman and CEO of Samsung
I would like to speak about the issue of leukemia at Samsung.
I would like to announce Samsung’s position regarding the employees who became ill or died as a result of what is suspected to be industrial accidents, their families, SHARPS, and a proposal made [by lawmaker Sim Sang-jeung] in her April 9 press conference.
[Certain] employees who had worked at our workplaces have been suffering from leukemia and other incurable diseases. Some of them have passed away.
During Samsung’s growth, countless employees dedicated themselves to working hard for the firm. Along the way, there were people like them who suffered. This is truly regrettable and heartbreaking.
Also, we were sometimes negligent about the pain and hardships they and their families faced. We should have solved this matter sooner. We feel heartbroken for we did not. We would like to use this opportunity to offer a sincere apology.
We will address this issue in earnest. We proactively accept the proposal made in an April 9 press conference [by lawmaker Sim], and will pay the victims and their families appropriate compensation.
As proposed, we will discuss with the parties directly involved in the issue and their families to form a third-party arbitration body. We will follow the terms and coverage of compensation and others decided on by that body.
We would like the families, SHARPS, and lawmaker Sim—the parties to the proposal—to make further proposals to conclude the issue.
Also, we will have an independent expert examine the safety and public health management of our semiconductor plants to implement measures to prevent the recurrence of [similar industrial accidents]
In addition, we will withdraw our third-party intervention in workers compensation proceedings filed by the victims and their families against KCOMWEL.
We hope our acceptance of the proposal is the opportunity to address the issue, so the pain of the victims and their families can be lessened, if only a little bit.