Samsung Electronics has issued a formal apology to its workers who were stricken with serious illnesses after working at its factories. It also promised to compensate them.
At a press conference, Kinam Kim, president and CEO of the company's Device Solutions Division, gave a low bow as part of the apology.
"Beloved colleagues and families have suffered for a long time, but Samsung Electronics failed to take care of the matter earlier," Kim said, according to Yonhap News Agency. "Samsung Electronics also did not fully and completely manage potential health risks at our chip and liquid-crystal display production lines."
This apology and promise of compensation is more than a decade in the making. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reported from Seoul, "Dozens of workers have reportedly developed cancer, leukemia and other afflictions at the world's largest chip-maker."
However, Kuhn reports, it's worth noting that "Kim stopped short, though, of admitting that the workplace was the direct cause of the workers' illnesses."
One of the instigators of the push was Hwang Sang-gi, whose daughter Yu-mi contracted leukemia and died after working at a Samsung factory.
"No apology would be enough when considering the deception and humiliation we experienced (from Samsung) over the past 11 years, the pain of suffering from occupational diseases, the pain of losing loved ones," Hwang said at the news conference, according to The Associated Press. But he added that he views the apology as a vow to improve safety conditions.
Hwang is one of the founders of the activist group SHARPS, which stands for "Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry." The group has criticized the semiconductor industry, which they say exposes workers to dangerous, toxic chemicals.
According to Yale Environment 360, a year after Yu-mi died, a woman who operated from the same workstation also died of leukemia. It highlights other cases:
"In March 2010, a 23-year-old woman named Park Ji-Yeon, who had worked at Samsung's On-Yang semiconductor plant since 2004, also died of leukemia, three years after her diagnosis. In 2005, a 27-year old woman named Han Hae-kyoung, who had worked in a Samsung LCD plant since 1995, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and is now seriously disabled. Another woman, Lee Yoon-jeong, who worked for Samsung in semiconductor production between 1997 and 2003, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010 at age 30."
Kim promised compensation for workers who had gotten sick at chip and liquid crystal display factories, Kuhn reported, "including parents who had miscarriages, or children with congenital diseases."
According to Reuters, "Samsung will pay up to 150 million won ($132,649.45 USD) for each former and current employee suffering from work-related diseases if they are found to be caused by exposure to harmful chemicals." Compensation is available to people who worked at these facilities for more than a year, dating back to 1984, the wire service added.
There's no official tally of precisely how many people have gotten sick and even died after working at the plants. The BBC reported that SHARPS "said it had found 319 other victims, 117 of whom had died, as of June this year."
The compensation will be administered by a law firm, Yonhap reported, and people can apply for compensation until at least 2028.