Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Filmmaker opens debate about health and safety in South Korea

April 2014

South Korea’s headlong rush from an impoverished land of farmers at the end of the Korean War to today’s hi-tec industrial society has come at a cost.

For decades, the sole priority has been economic growth. Human rights, health & safety issues, social services have all languished in the slow lane.

Government, industry, and the media have largely ignored the problems, but thanks to the internet, society as a whole has become increasingly well informed and concerned.

An independent film, “Another Promise,” released this February, has exposed one heartbreaking story and initiated debate about the issues.

The film tells the real-life story of a teenage girl Yu-mi Hwang who gets a job in a Samsung semiconductor factory. She falls ill and is diagnosed with a rare form or leukaemia. Her illness worsens and, in 2007, roughly five years after starting work, she dies on the back seat of her father’s taxi as he rushes her to hospital.

Learning that others had suffered similar fates, Yu-mi’s father reckons her illness was caused by constant exposure to hazardous chemicals at work. He sets out to prove his daughter died from a workplace-related illness, a quest that pits him against the Korea’s biggest company.

Hwang was told that he could never win a fight with Samsung. However, he persisted and took the matter to court, rejecting an offer not to file a suit in return for compensation of KRW 10 Billion. In 2011, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled that the leukaemia could be regarded as an industrial accident. This was first time any Samsung semiconductor employee’s illness was so recognized. It was also the first case where an individual won against a major Korean corporation.

Though the judgement initially received scant attention, the silence surrounding the case had finally been broken. The story attracted the attention of Kim Tae-yun, an independent filmmaker concerned with social issues. The subject precluded usual methods of film finance and so Mr Kim raised the necessary funds by crowdsourcing. Over 7,000 people contributed to make the film possible.

By early March, 193 employees at Samsung Electronics had reported themselves as victims of occupational diseases, according to the Hankyoreh newspaper.

At the same time, the newly formed Committee to Commemorate Hwang Yu-Mi and the Workers Who Perished from Industrial Accidents in the Semiconductor Industry claims that 92 Samsung semiconductor factory workers have died from leukaemia.

Samsung Electronics | Asia | Health and safety


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