Geum Yi

Appellate court upholds decision against Samsung for employees’ leukemia deaths

August 21, 2014
Samsung, protest

An advocacy group dealing with deaths and illness among Samsung Electronics employees stages a protest in front of Samsung Electronics building. (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — An appellate court said Thursday Samsung Electronics Co. is to blame for the leukemia deaths of two of its former production-line employees, upholding a lower court’s landmark decision three years ago.

In 2011, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of the families of the two female employees who died of acute leukemia after working at Samsung’s semiconductor production lines.

Samsung was ordered to pay compensation to their families in the court decision that marked the first official acknowledgment of a link between leukemia deaths and exposure to cancer-causing substances at plants operated by the firm.

Samsung appealed the decision, but the Seoul High Court confirmed the lower court’s ruling on Thursday that it was responsible for the deaths of the two women, surnamed Hwang and Lee.

“During their work, Hwang and Lee are likely to have had exposure to cancer-causing substances like benzene or radiation,” the appellate court said, upholding the previous ruling.

“Although the process of how they got the disease was not medically or scientifically verified, it is possible to assume the correlation between their work and their leukemia,” the court said.

One of the two female workers, surnamed Hwang, died in 2007 at the age of 23 due to acute myeloid leukemia after being diagnosed with the illness in 2005. She had previously worked for two years at Samsung’s production line in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province. The plant makes wafers for semiconductors.

Lee also had worked for 10 years at the same factory before dying of the same type of leukemia in 2006 at the age of 30.

Previously, the state-run Korea Workers’ Compensation & Welfare Service decided in 2009 that Samsung did not have to pay compensation and funeral expenses for the deaths of the two, saying it was not responsible.

The families of the victims then lodged a claim at the Seoul Administrative Court to overturn the state agency’s decision.

The Protector of Health and Human Rights of Semiconductor Workers (SHARP), an advocacy group dealing with deaths and illness among Samsung Electronics employees, said that up to 70 workers have died of leukemia or brain tumors after working at the electronics firm.

After years of denying its responsibility, the electronics giant officially apologized in May and opened negotiations with the families of some of the victims. But not much progress has been made so far.

In the same Thursday ruling, however, the appellate court did not recognize Samsung’s responsibility for the deaths of three other labor victims, including two who are now fighting leukemia. It said they are unlikely to have been exposed to toxic substances.

“It has been an uphill battle to obtain this decision. I hope this ruling can open the door for other labor victims to get recognition of industrial accidents,” a SHARP official said after the ruling.