This video brings us a rather shocking interview with Yu-mi Hwang, a Korean worker in a Samsung semiconductor factory. Not long after this footage was shot, she died of leukemia at the age of 22:
"I often got bruises and threw up everything I ate, and was constantly exhausted and nauseous. So a freind took me to thehospital, where they told I had some problem with my blood. So they told me to go to another, bigger hospital. So I went there and was diagnosed with Leukemia...The company considered this an individual tragedy, but Yu-mi's father did some investigating and found that his daughter's fellow employees had similar problems. A young woman working alongside Yu-mi also contracted leukemia. A startling number of workers in the same section of the factory developed unusual melanomas.
As the wife of one worker explains (later in the above-cited video):
I was very healthy, but it was hard to bear int he workplace, even for me. Female workers suffered menstrual irregularity, miscarriage and infertility...Even I experienced a miscarriage. Even if they could have a baby, the children have congenital diseases.A similar cancer cluster broke out at another Samsung factory. Nevertheless, the company continues to proclaim all of these diseases to be coincidental.
Recently, a internal Samsung document -- an "environmental handbook" -- was leaked. This handbook appears to confirm that toxic substances at Samsung factories pose a threat to workers:
According to the analysis, a total of six carcinogenic materials were used in the semiconductor plant, namely trichloroethylene, thinner, sensitizing solution, dimethylacetamide, arsine (AsH3) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4).This handbook was classified top secret; distribution outside the company was prohibited.
Trichloroethylene, which was used in the washing and etching process, can cause diseases such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, renal cancer and breast cancer. Choi said, “Trichloroethylene is a substance that Samsung currently claims not to use.” Dimethylacetamide, also used in the washing and etching process, is carcinogenic and causes sterility, spontaneous abortion and respiratory organ impairment.
Would increased governmental regulation of Samsung be tantamount to interference with the free market?
Libertarian ideologists should note that Samsung -- originally a food exporter -- became an electronics giant only with the help of the Korean government. (Many famous Asian brands have similar histories, as detailed in Ha-Joon Chang's masterful Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism.) Had this company been subjected to pure market forces, it would not have prospered and probably would not have survived. It hardly seems fair for Samsung, a company which relied on governmental support, to resist governmental inquiries into its health and safety practices.
Alas, the Korean government seems to have decided that the problem lies not with Smsung, but with company's critics.
Instead of conducting a proper investigation of the occupational nature of the deaths and adopting adequate prevention measures, the Korean government supported Samsung and joined its efforts to silence the growing evidence of a cancer cluster among electronics manufacturing workers at Samsung in Korea who have been exposed to toxic chemicals. On 2nd April there was a funeral ceremony for Park Ji-yeon, followed by a press conference at Samsung headquarters in Seoul to demand accountability from Samsung. The press conference was broken up by the police who then arrested seven of the activists who then shouted to Samsung “You are responsible for the death of Ji-Yeon Park.” They were released 2 days later without charges.