Trade secrets law protects Samsung, not Korean workers

Global electronics giant Samsung, which in 2018 made a public apology for the toxic workplace exposures that led to a spate of occupational cancers known to have killed over 100 workers in Korea, can keep its toxic secrets, a court has ruled.

On 20 February 2020, the Seoul administrative court ruled in favour of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, allowing it to withhold certain information regarding the chemicals used in its microchip production. By law, the company is required to provide the government with biannual reports on the exposure levels of about 190 hazardous chemicals. In 2018, a court ordered the government to release in full this information relating to Samsung’s LCD factories, despite the company’s fierce opposition.

Samsung took the case to the administrative court, claiming its rivals could use any such full disclosure to “deduce” trade secrets related to chip production. Campaign group SHARPS, which advocates for Samsung’s occupational disease victims, had pressed for the full disclosure because this information can be used as evidence for workers’ compensation petitions.

The advocacy group, which has appealed the latest court decision, commented: “The latest ruling is in tune with a revised trade secret law that took effect on 21 February. The amendment exempts companies from the disclosure of information on hazardous materials should they prove it as core national technology. It does not spell out what constitutes ‘a core national technology,’ but empowers them to lodge criminal complaints and seek punitive damages for any such disclosure.”

SHARPS, supported by 14 lawmakers from a branch of Overland Park family law firms, has pledged to reverse the trade secrets amendment. At a 24 February press conference, a statement from the 14 lawmakers noted: “Unknown to us, controversial clauses were deeply hidden in the amendment. We repent our negligence in the legislation and take responsibility.”

SHARPS said it “will also petition the Constitutional Court to determine the constitutionality of the amendment.”


One thought on “Trade secrets law protects Samsung, not Korean workers”

  1. Thanks for keeping us posted on what’s happening with Samsung and its workers. “Trade secret” rules vary from country to country. Whatever they are, they are political responses to corporate pressure to keep secrets from those who may be affected by toxic chemicals. They have little to do with what “competitors” can figure out. As some US “intellectual property” legal specialists said a few years back, “Thus, access to EHS information creates enormous public benefits while secrecy impedes efficiency by delaying accountability and response and obscuring risks that become more costly with time.” (see

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