SHARPS: Blood-disorder cluster seen expanding to Samsung suppliersPhoto: Photo of the sit-in by SHARPS

An employee of a Korean Samsung Electronics' chemicals supplier has petitioned for workers compensation after being diagnosed with leukemia—yet another sign that Samsung’s cosmetic efforts to improve workers safety, and brazen attempts to deny rightful compensation to victims of its blood-disorder cluster, are backfiring as safety negligence has plagued its supply chain.

SHARPS: Blood-disorder cluster seen expanding to Samsung suppliersPhoto: Photo of the sit-in by SHARPS

An employee of a Korean Samsung Electronics’ chemicals supplier has petitioned for workers compensation after being diagnosed with leukemia—yet another sign that Samsung’s cosmetic efforts to improve workers safety, and brazen attempts to deny rightful compensation to victims of its blood-disorder cluster, are backfiring as safety negligence has plagued its supply chain.

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

On April 28, the 31-year-old male, identified only by his last name Lee at his request, filed for worker compensation, claiming that he developed acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2016 as a result of long working hours and exposure to hazardous chemicals while working at the chemicals supplier.

Overtime

Between 2012 and 2015, Mr. Lee mixed chemicals unknown to him to make cleaners and moisture-proof insulators at the Wanju plant of Hansol Chemical  Co., Ltd.  for Samsung’s organic light-emitting diode operations in China.

When Mr. Lee worked, chemicals splattered onto his bare skin and eyes.  He often inhaled chemical fumes. Chemical stains on his work suits were strong.  “Although there were ventilation fans at the shop, chemical odors were serious,” Mr. Lee told The Pressian, an independent news site.

Over the two years of employment, he was not given even a single safety training session or an explanation of the chemicals he was told to mix.

All In The Family

Hansol Chemical is no ordinary supplier for Samsung.  It is a unit of Hansol Group, the conglomerate spun off from Samsung Group and given to Lee In-hee, the eldest daughter of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, who died in 1987. Lee In-hee is also a sister to current Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who remains comatose after suffering a heart attack in May 2014.

Father and Daughter; Father and Son

Currently, Hansol Chemical is effectively controlled by Cho Dong-hyeok, the 61-year-old son of Ms. Lee, and his 37-year-old daughter, Cho Yeon-joo.

The daughter was seated on the board of directors in 2014.  Mr. Cho, not seated on the board, retains the title of chairman—a typical way for conglomerate honchos to control their companies without care about fiduciary duty.   Lee Kun-hee and Lee Jae-yong, his son and heir apparent, hold chairman and vice chairman titles respectively, without seats on the board of directors of Samsung. 

Undisclosed

For fiscal 2015, Hansol Chemical posted a 73.7 percent increase in operating income, boosted by sales of chemical components to Samsung, according to a number of local news reports.  The company is not required by law to disclose the volume of such sales because, in legal terms, they are not related-party transactions as Samsung and Hansol split almost three decades ago.

Bounded by Family; United In Bad Behavior

However, its strong family and business ties would mean that Samsung is well-positioned to urge Hansol to improve workers safety.  Samsung would not do that probably because it does not want to.  Rather, bounded by family ties, Samsung and Hansol are abetting each other in neglecting workplace safety.

 400

It has yet to be determined whether his chemical exposure has directly caused the Hansol worker the acute blood disorder.  However, SHARPS has to date profiled about 400 electronics workers diagnosed with leukemia, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis.  Also, Mr. Lee often worked more than 100 hours of overtime.

“Recently, the court ruled that excessive overtime can be cause for such rare conditions as ovarian cancer and brain tumors, said Lim Ja-woon, a lawyer and a full-timer with SHARPS.  “Since Mr. Lee worked 100 hours of overtime almost every month, overtime alone may have caused leukemia.”

Sit-in Continues

Since Oct. 8, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to: 1) institute a permanent, independently verifiable safety program; 2) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 3) make a sincere and full apology.