CARMEL, California — Factories have been notorious for human rights violations since their invention, but in modern times, these threats to workers’ rights and lives are becoming increasingly challenged. The most recent target: Samsung.
Samsung is one of the biggest producers of tech and smartphones around the world, particularly in its resident nations in Asia. Its primary factories are in places like China and South Korea where labor regulations are loosely enforced. As a result, Samsung factories have been exposed for dozens of violations, from unpaid overtime to unsafe conditions. But, unfortunately, Samsung is one of the most powerful companies in Asia, and with a revenue nearly one fourth the size of South Korea’s GDP, changing its ways is incredibly difficult
One of workers’ most significant grievances is the health problems associated with the chemicals used. Since 1990, 114 of 243 Samsung workers who fell ill, either with skin problems or blood related cancer like leukemia, were employed in the semiconductor factories. Barefoot women working in these plants dip the computer chips into these hazardous substances for unbearably long hours, all the time touching and breathing in carcinogenic chemicals that make them extremely sick.
Luckily, there is a movement to hold Samsung responsible for the damage it causes to its workers’ health. Two documentaries caught the attention of the South Korean public in the past few years that exposed the atrocities committed by the company. The movies, “Empire of Shame” and “Another Promise” tell the stories of workers who have developed leukemia because of conditions at Samsung. What the movies show is sickening. Over the course of the research for the movies, the documenters uncovered 58 cases of leukemia and other blood cancers among workers at Samsung’s factories.
Although big companies often resist change, Samsung has actually taken measures to increase workers’ rights. In 2011, Samsung spend $88 million on improving safety in its factories. However, to many workers whose health has been comprised, this is not enough.
More recently, on May 14, Samsung has taken a big step forward and issued an apology to South Korean families that have been hurt by Samsung’s lack of health concern. In addition, it promises compensation to families who have had a loved one develop cancer as a result of chemical exposure.
Although this seems like a move towards better workers’ rights, it does come about seven years late. Samsung has been fighting families in courts since the death of a 23-year-old woman who developed leukemia after working in a factory for only two years. Since her death, Samsung has been brought to court numerous times, only for the courts to rule in the company’s favor every time.
Regardless, Samsung is finally expressing some degree of responsibility. The company still refuses to outright admit that the chemicals it uses cause cancer with intense exposure, but its apology does indicate Samsung has grown a conscious, small as it is. Much more is left to be done, but this is a step.
In the end, it will always be difficult for workers in big-name and wealthy companies to ensure they are well taken care of. But these factories do need to make a change or risk hundreds more lawsuits and public accusations, as well as hundreds of innocent workers’ lives. Sooner or later, workers’ rights and health need to become a priority.