The Continued Plight of Samsung Workers

Submitted by cchen on May 3, 2017

Samsung has had, to put it lightly, an exciting year. From exploding phone batteries to a corruption scandal linked to the recently impeached president of South Korea, Samsung’s story rivals that of the most dramatic of soap operas. Given the public debacles of the past year, Samsung is under enormous pressure to pull off the smooth launch of their new flagship smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S8. Things seem to be going well for the company – although Samsung officials recently announced that Bixby, Samsung’s new signature voice assistant, would be not be functional with the release of the new phone in April, they also shared that pre-orders are higher than any other previous Samsung phone.

Yet despite Samsung’s consistent presence in the media, there is one story that hasn’t been avidly discussed: The occupational health hazards Samsung factory workers continue to face.

SHARPS, a health advocacy group for Samsung workers in South Korea, has been documenting Samsung factory workers’ illnesses and deaths since 2007. In January 2017, they reported the 79th death of a factory worker. He was 31 years old, and died four years after being diagnosed with leukemia. He spent the last years of his life waging a two-pronged battle – one with his disease, and one with Samsung to receive worker compensation. He was ultimately unsuccessful with both battles.

His tragic story is unfortunately just one of many. The Associated Press published an investigative report in August 2016 in which they discovered that the South Korean government was, at the request of Samsung, deliberately withholding information from workers about the chemicals they are exposed to. Worker compensation related to occupational diseases is difficult to obtain with this information; without this information, it is practically impossible. AP also shared comments from factory workers and their families, highlighting some of the difficulties they encounter when trying to seek justice or, at the very least, compensation. The publication of the report coincided with the news about the exploding Note 7 batteries, and their stories were lost in the subsequent media frenzy.

As Samsung gets ready to release their new phone, it is important to continue sharing the stories of the workers who help bring these phones to consumers, and the risks they encounter by going to work every day.

Despite making a commitment to pay victims compensation in 2015, more factory workers have fallen ill in the years after, with little recourse for medical compensation from Samsung or the government. Furthermore, Samsung continues to refuse to invest in developing a system that not only monitors and removes hazardous chemicals from their factories, but would also ensure a fair distribution of medical compensation for workers. This is an important step for Samsung to take to ensure that their workers no longer fall ill – or die – simply by doing their job.

Join Green America in telling Samsung that as a consumer, you stand with their factory workers and want an end to their smartphone sweatshops. Take action today, and tell Samsung that you value people who make their phones – and they should too.

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