During the 35th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, a former employee at a Samsung Electronics subcontractor testified about his loss of vision caused by methanol poisoning in the workplace.

I lost my vision and suffered brain damage while making your mobile phones,” Kim Yeong-shin said in his testimony.

The 29 year old South Korean man worked for only two weeks at a third-tier supplier for Samsung Electronics. During these two weeks, he worked for 12 hours a day without a day off. He and his colleagues were exposed to methanol during the process of cutting small aluminum parts for mobile phones, where methanol is used as cutting oil. No one informed them about the danger of methanol and they were not provided with protective equipment. While a safer alternative exist, methanol is still being widely used because it is cheaper.

Kim Yeong-shin is not the only victim of methanol poisoning. At least six workers developed acute methanol poisoning while working at third-tier suppliers for Samsung and LG Electronics in the period of January 2015 to February 2016. According to a report of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, methanol poisoning was not the only violation of human rights at subcontractors of conglomerates such as Samsung and LG. Other violations include:

  • 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;
  • fatalities resulting from humidifier disinfectant.

So far, the victims have not received any compensation. Most subcontractors do not have the means to compensate the victims and Samsung and LG deny their responsibility. For Kim Yeong-shin, his speech at the UNHRC was an opportunity to bring more attention to the issue of methanol poisoning and to hold the corporations and the South Korean government accountable.

As he ends his testimony: “Our lives are more important than corporate profits.

For more information, read the new report The Blind – A report on methanol poisoning cases in supply chains for Samsung and LG Electronics in KOREA. This report is supported by the GoodElectronics Network and received financial assistance of the European Union. It was distributed during the 35th session of the UNHRC and the 106th session of the International Labour Conference.