A young man who lost his vision making Samsung smartphones testifies before UN

Posted on : 2017-06-12 17:25 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
In testimony before UN Human Rights Council, Kim Yeong-shin seeking justice from the government and Samsung
Kim Yeong-shin gives a speech explaining his loss of vision caused by exposure to methanol while working for a Samsung Electronics subcontractor
Kim Yeong-shin gives a speech explaining his loss of vision caused by exposure to methanol while working for a Samsung Electronics subcontractor

“What you’re holding in your hand right now contains my life,” the young South Korean man said, pointing to Samsung and LG smartphones. Kim Yeong-shin, 29, was standing at the microphone during the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, on the morning of June 9. After working at a mobile phone supplier for Samsung in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, for just two weeks in Jan. 2015, Kim suffered methanol poisoning and loss of vision.

Kim’s speech was written in large Korean letters that indicated the English pronunciation. Before delivering the speech, he held the paper close to his eyes as he practiced it again and again until the paper was crumpled. When he nervously began his speech in halting English, the eyes of more than a hundred national delegates in the meeting room turned toward him.

“I lost my vision and suffered brain damage while making your mobile phones. I worked at a third-tier supplier for Samsung Electronics for 12 hours a day for two weeks without a single day off. We were used and thrown away like disposable paper cups, and no one told us that outsourcing is illegal in the manufacturing sector or that methanol was dangerous for us,” Kim said.

“There are at least five more young people in South Korea like me. They haven’t received any kind of response, apology or compensation. We haven’t gotten any justice either from the government or from the company,” he continued. “What we wanted was to live a happy life like other people. Samsung, LG and the South Korean government need to take responsibility.” The reason, Kim said as he wrapped up his speech, is that “our lives are more important than corporate profits.”

“When Kim said that no one had told him that methanol was dangerous, I could hear sighs around the meeting room. All the national delegates listened intently to Kim’s speech, and when his speech was over, all the South Korean activists wept,” Ryu Mi-kyung, international director of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), told the Hankyoreh over an online messenger. Ryu was present at the meeting.

Kim arrived in Geneva on the evening of June 5 along with activists from civic groups to testify about the victims of industrial accidents at subcontractors of chaebol such as Samsung and LG before the UNHRC. A report that the UNHRC working group on human rights and corporations had prepared about its visit to South Korea was scheduled to be submitted and discussed on June 8. The report mentions violations of human and labor rights, including not only loss of vision resulting from methanol poisoning but also occupational diseases at Samsung’s semiconductor and LCD factories; union busting by Yoosung Enterprise, a subcontractor for Hyundai Motor; industrial accidents at subcontractors for Hyundai Heavy Industries; and fatalities resulting from humidifier disinfectant. The working group’s report also includes a recommendation for the South Korean government and corporations: “Chaebol and other prime contractors must be held more accountable for protecting human rights.”

“When I visited South Korea [last year], the government and Samsung both promised to take strict measures to manage the supply network. We’re going to see whether that promise is kept, and I hope this will be an opportunity for the issue of methanol victims to be resolved,” said Michael Addo, chair of the working group, after Kim’s speech.

“I’m grateful to everyone who helped me make my speech, and I hope this will be an opportunity to bring this incident to more people’s attention and be a source of courage for the victims. Since a South Korean has spoken up in an international venue, I hope the South Korean government will also [take appropriate measures],” Kim said following his speech.

By Park Tae-woo, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles