After years of pressure, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has finally agreed to a binding arbitration framework that calls on the multinational corporation to fully compensate Korean victims of diseases caused by hazardous exposures in its plants.
In a major victory for campaigners, Samsung on 21 July 2018 said it would accept unconditionally an arbitration proposal expected from a mediation committee in October. Samsung spokesperson Kim Jeong-seok told the TV network SBS. “We have decided to accept the proposal by the mediation committee.”
SHARPS, the advocacy group that has spearheaded the campaign for justice for Samsung occupational disease victims and their families, also agreed to the proposal. The group has highlighted work-related conditions including a range of cancers, blood diseases and nervous system disorders in former Samsung production line workers.
Samsung effectively walked away from the mediation committee in July 2015, instead launching its own much-criticised compensation programme. This prompted SHARPS to stage a 1,000-day sit-in at its corporate headquarters in south Seoul.
On 18 July 2018, the mediation committee made a final proposal for a binding arbitration process, declaring it would dissolve itself if either party did not accept the proposal.
This deal, agreed by both sides, means Samsung will begin to put in place safety measures proposed by the mediation committee by October 2018, by when the electronics multinational will also make a formal apology for the harm it has caused. Samsung will also compensate SHARPS-profiled victims under a new scheme proposed by the committee by October 2018. The compensation scheme will remain open for further referrals for ten years.
SHARPS agreed to end its sit-in within days of the formal signing of the proposal for arbitration. It announced the 1,023-day protest had ended on 25 June 2018.
“We began the sit-in with two desperate tasks in mind,” said SHARPS in a statement after signing the agreement. “First, we needed to make the world know Samsung’s occupational disease issue was still ongoing, and second, we needed to have discontinued dialogue with Samsung re-initiated.
“After enduring more than 1,000 days on streets, we achieved both,” the advocacy group concluded.
The company has faced sharp criticism in the international press over its treatment of occupational disease victims. “Samsung has been bent solely upon shirking its responsibility,” noted an editorial in the Hankyoreh newspaper.
As of June 2018, SHARPS had profiled 320 Samsung occupational disease victims in Korea, 118 of whom have died. The advocacy group has, via petition or through court filings, successfully assisted 28 victims of Samsung and others in getting workers’ compensation.