Samsung agrees to discuss leukemia deaths after six years of denial

Posted on : 2013-01-23 15:15 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Semiconductor giant is seeking the withdrawal of lawsuits and to avoid further damage to its reputation
 Jan. 22. (by Shin So-young)
Jan. 22. (by Shin So-young)

By Kwack Jung-soo, business correspondent

Banollim has officially accepted Samsung Electronics’ proposal for dialogue in regard to leukemia cases among former semiconductor factory workers. Banollim is a group that promotes the health and human rights of workers in the semiconductor industry, has been providing support to people who came down with leukemia while working at a Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory. Samsung suggested that they begin with working-level negotiations in preparation for more serious talks and asked Banollim to name the time, place and representatives as soon as it can.

The leukemia cases at Samsung came to light in March 2007 with the death of Hwang Yu-mi at the age of 22. Now, six years later, the first official dialogue between Samsung and the victims is set to take place.

On the morning of Jan. 22, Banollim and families of Samsung semiconductor workers who have gotten sick held a press conference in front of Samsung Electronics headquarters in the Seocho neighborhood of Seoul.

“Samsung Electronics has officially proposed dialogue to resolve the problem through meetings and dialogue with the leukemia patients and the bereaved families. It has also expressed its intention to form an appropriate team that can participate in the dialogue in good faith,” a Banollim representative said. “We officially accept Samsung’s proposal to engage in dialogue.”

On Jan. 17, Samsung sent an official document to Banollim from the office of Choi Wu-su, vice president of the company’s semiconductor (DS) division.

“We hope that, before starting the dialogue in earnest, both sides can decide on the agenda and the scope of the dialogue through mutual and amicable discussion. Please choose the time and location of the working-level deliberations and the person in charge and inform us of your decision as soon as possible.” Samsung’s request indicates its eagerness to begin dialogue.

Samsung Electronics put Shim Ui-gyeong, managing director of human resources for the DS division of Samsung Electronics, and Lee Ki-ok, a company lawyer, in charge of the working-level negotiations.

Banollim’s decision to accept Samsung’s proposal for dialogue is highly significant. This represents the first time that talks will be held to find a solution for the cases of leukemia at Samsung’s semiconductor factory. For the past six years, Samsung had stubbornly maintained its position in the face of the deaths of numerous young people.

Since March 2007, when Hwang Yu-mi’s death brought the leukemia cases at Samsung’s semiconductor factory to public attention, the number of related deaths has risen to 60. Further, since Hwang succumbed to her illness, around 160 workers have contacted Banollim to complain not only of leukemia but also brain tumors, breast cancer, cervical cancer, skin cancer, and other ailments. The Samsung leukemia cases have even captured the interest of the international community.

Banollim and Samsung are clearly both willing to engage in dialogue, so it is not expected that there will be any major difficulties in the early rounds of the negotiations.

Banollim has been quick to play up the significance of Samsung’s proposal to start talks. “This is the result of six years of pain and difficulty, six year when we kept fighting and refused to give in,” Banollim said.

Representing the bereaved families at the press conference was Yu-mi’s father, Hwang Sang-ki.

“Samsung claimed that my daughter’s leukemia was unrelated to her work, and they tried to pass me off as a fraud looking for easy money,” Hwang said. “Many of my friends and family told me to just give up, even though I was in the right. But I couldn’t do that, because to this day there are too many workers suffering [as my daughter did before she died].”

“Samsung’s decision to enter talks after stubbornly resisting them for the past six years is due to the influence of the public, which wants the health and human rights of workers to be guaranteed,” he said.

“We will participate in the dialogue with the firm intention of solving the occupational illness problem at Samsung Electronics and to prevent the reoccurrence of such diseases,” a representative with Banollim said. “We also ask Samsung Electronics to take part in the talks with a responsible attitude.”

The civic group also said it would be meeting with the leukemia patients and their families on Jan. 22 to discuss the details of the working-level meeting, indicating its intention to initiate the working-level meeting as soon as possible.

In a letter to Banollim that was written on Jan. 11 and delivered on Jan. 17, Samsung emphasized that it “wants to make clear that it is willing to meet the people with leukemia and the families of the deceased directly and to resolve the issue through dialogue.”

Samsung is even conducting an internal review of an unprecedented proposal to create a large industrial safety fund for treating and compensating people with leukemia.

“If need be, we can even create a separate fund for providing treatment for people with leukemia,” one senior executive at Samsung Electronics said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if the fund could be used for people suffering from similar diseases, not only at Samsung but also at other workplaces around Korea?”

But even as Samsung indicates it is thinking about providing people with these diseases levels of compensation and treatment that exceed those offered by government agencies and the courts, it is also asking that lawsuits be withdrawn as a precondition for the offer. The company is hoping to avoid being branded as a leukemia-prone workplace. This should alert the parties concerned that there will be no shortage of disagreement at that stage of the negotiations.

Concerning this, Banollim reconfirmed its original stance that the lawsuits underway in the courts and with the Korea Labor Welfare Corporation (KLWC) seeking recognition of the deaths as industrial accidents are separate from the talks with Samsung.

Banollim also noted that Samsung has been participating in the industrial accident lawsuits between people with leukemia and the KLWC as a supplemental party and asked the company to stop denying that the illnesses are industrial accidents.


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