In a somewhat unusual action, Samsung has apologized to those of its workers who have fallen ill while working for the company, and is promising compensation to sufferers of leukemia and other ailments.

Samsung CEO Kwon Oh-hyun has issued a “deep apology” to those workers who have become ill as a result of working for the company, and a spokesman said, “Some of Samsung’s former employees have passed away after contracting leukemia or are coping with difficult-to-treat diseases after having worked at our manufacturing facility. We could have been more diligent in addressing the hardship and sorrow of former employees and the families of the deceased… we will make due compensation for former employees battling illness and the families of the deceased.”

The employees said to be affected with these ailments are those who made components for the Galaxy S5 and other popular products. Samsung has been under pressure from the group “Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry” (SHARPS). That group alleges that at least 26 workers in Samsung’s Gi-heung and On-Yang plants have contracted blood cancer, and so far 10 have died. SHARPS has alleged that company safety efforts, including the protective suits, are designed to protect the products rather than the workers. Those workers are said to be routinely exposed to harmful chemicals and radiation.

Samsung will be establishing an independent mediation group to review the cases of workers who have fallen ill and determine compensation. Samsung has also promised an extensive review of working conditions in its factories.

Despite legendary stories of abuse and neglect of workers in some parts of the world, it is nonetheless surprising today to find that developed countries, manufacturing products we use every day, still lack the basic protections that we have taken for granted now for so many years. South Korea is an economic powerhouse, and is not a Bangladesh or Vietnam. You would expect that the major conglomerates of South Korea would already have systems in place for the basic protections of its workers. 

This weeks apology makes it clear that is not the case. And of course, China has proven that being highly developed producers and being safety conscious stewards are two distinctly different things.

Samsung is a huge organization, with many facilities and products. It will be interesting to see if this action leads to the development of a greater protective system for South Korea’s workers, or if it is a one time acknowledgement that won’t change weak safety protocols currently in place. 

I’m not betting on this, as that area of the world is generally far behind the curve when it comes to respecting the safety of their workers. In this case it appears some workers will be compensated for their loss, and they did say they were sorry. I guess that stands for something. 


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