SAM­SUNG DE­NIES KEEP­ING IN­FOR­MA­TION ON TOX­INS FROM WORK­ERS

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

South Korea’s Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics has de­nied with­hold­ing cru­cial in­for­ma­tion from work­ers about which chem­i­cals they have been ex­posed to at its fac­to­ries.

The fam­i­lies of work­ers say there are about 200 cases of em­ploy­ees con­tract­ing se­ri­ous dis­eases, in­clud­ing can­cer, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the As­so­ci­ated Press news agency found.

Sam­sung with­held the in­for­ma­tion say­ing it came un­der trade se­crets, said AP. Sam­sung said the safety of its work­ers was its “num­ber one pri­or­ity”.

A group of work­ers’ fam­i­lies has said 76 peo­ple have died due to con­tact with the chem­i­cals. The vic­tims need the in­for­ma­tion to qual­ify for com­pen­sa­tion.

They al­lege Sam­sung with­held the in­for­ma­tion from South Korean au­thor­i­ties un­der the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of trade se­crets, an ac­cu­sa­tion the com­pany firmly de­nied.

Prov­ing causal­ity with ill­ness is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult. Think of how long it took to get courts to recog­nise that smok­ing causes can­cer or to ac­cept the now un­doubted fa­tal ef­fects of as­bestos.

Com­pa­nies - and their highly skilled lawyers - can cast doubt on what ex­actly it was that a sick worker came into con­tact with which trig­gered the ill­ness.

In the Sam­sung case, the Seoul Ad­min­is­tra­tive Court ruled five years ago that though the pre­cise cause of two Sam­sung work­ers’ ill­ness wasn’t clear, “it can be con­strued that their exposures to dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals and ra­di­a­tion were cat­a­lysts, at least”.

Ac­cord­ingly, it or­dered that the Korean Work­ers’ Com­pen­sa­tion and Wel­fare agency should pay com­pen­sa­tion.

In the case of other work­ers, the court was not con­vinced of a di­rect link be­tween the em­ployer and em­ploy­ees’ ill­nesses.

The is­sue now is whether Sam­sung is keep­ing back in­for­ma­tion which could help work­ers who fell ill mak­ing its prod­ucts get com­pen­sa­tion.

In South Korea, there is a fre­quent com­plaint that govern­ment and the con­glom­er­ates (with Sam­sung at the head) are too close for com­fort - and for com­pen­sa­tion to the fam­i­lies of those who died through work.

Un­der South Korean law, com­pa­nies are not re­quired to re­veal in­for­ma­tion deemed a trade se­cret. Firms are, how­ever, obliged to dis­close whether their prod­ucts con­tain toxic sub­stances.

Sam­sung said in a state­ment that the al­le­ga­tion it had “in­ten­tion­ally blocked work­ers from ac­cess­ing chem­i­cal in­for­ma­tion per­tain­ing to work­place health and safety, or il­le­gally pre­vented the dis­clo­sure of such in­for­ma­tion, is not true”.

Com­pen­sa­tion for in­dus­trial in­jury, in­clud­ing can­cer, has been awarded in some cases but the group of fam­i­lies say that other claims are be­ing ham­pered be­cause the South Korean au­thor­i­ties de­mand the de­tails of which chem­i­cals had caused the ill­nesses and deaths.

With­out it, the au­thor­i­ties usu­ally re­ject the de­mand for com­pen­sa­tion.

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