Benzene-poisoned ASM worker commits suicide in despair

Company refused to pay for leukaemia-treatment despite calls by family and NGOs

Dec 30, 2013
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Last Saturday, Chinese factory worker Ming Kunpeng sadly ended his life by jumping from the rooftop of the hospital where he was receiving treatment. His mother was sleeping in his room at the time and did not know he had gone up to the roof. The young man (aged 27) suffered from leukaemia after having worked with benzene on a daily basis for years. His employer, ASM Pacific Technology, in which Dutch ASMI holds a substantial ownership of approximately 40%, did not provide sufficient compensation to get him the medical care he needed. On-going efforts of his family and international pressure to get him treatment in Hong Kong at the company’s expense failed, with fatal consequences.


Last Saturday, Chinese factory worker Ming Kunpeng sadly ended his life by jumping from the rooftop of his apartment building. The young man (aged 27) suffered from leukaemia after having worked with benzene on a daily basis for years. His employer, ASM Pacific Technology, in which Dutch ASMI holds a substantial ownership of approximately 40%, did not provide sufficient compensation to get him the medical care he needed. On-going efforts of his family and international pressure to get him treatment in Hong Kong at the company’s expense failed, with fatal consequences.

 

Ming began working at ASMPT in Shenzhen at the age of 19. He was required to use benzene on a daily basis without training or protective gear. This destroyed his health. In June 2009, at the age of 22, he fell ill and was brought to the hospital for examination. Despite the factory's year long effort to reject the occupational cause of his illness, he was eventually diagnosed with leukaemia. This was the beginning of a lenghty dispute between him and his employer, who kept cutting off negotiations about compensation. A critical publication in an online Hong Kong newspaper added to the debate. Eventually, Ming became one of the few workers in China to actually receive the occupational leukaemia diagnosis. ASMPT settled and agreed to pay compensation. But not enough to cover better treatment outside of Mainland China.

Ming’s family put enormous on-going efforts in getting him additional treatment to save his life in Hong Kong, which is only a half hour away from his house in Shenzhen.

ASMI is a leading supplier of semiconductor process equipment used in computers, smartphones and home electronics, supplying Apple, among others. Headquartered in Almere (Netherlands), ASMI has factories in Germany, Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Malaysia.

In May 2013, GoodElectronics, jointly with IndustriALL and FNV Bondgenoten, expressed concerns towards the Management Board of ASMI about the situation of benzene-poisoned workers at ASMPT and called for proper health and safety measures and high quality medical care for all workers. ASMI responded, without showing any sense or sensibility, stating that ‘the chemicals used in the workplace did not contain benzene’, and denying legal responsibility by emphasizing that ‘as a result of the partial secondary placement of shares of ASM Pacific Technology Ltd. by ASM International on 13 March 2013, ASMPT is no longer a subsidiary of ASM International.’ The former remark is untrue, the latter is a clear proof of ASMI missing the point.

Click here for the publication on the on-line Hong Kong newspaper (in Chinese).

Click here for a video made by Heather White (with English subtitles). Heather White is filmmaker, researcher, and Network Fellow with the Edmond Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University.

 

 

 

 

 

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