Samsung CEO Apologizes To Dead Workers’ Families Over Alleged Workplace Dangers In Semiconductor Assembly

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A customer tries out Samsung Electronics' new Galaxy 5 smartphone at the company's headquarters in Seoul April 7, 2014. Company CEO Kwon Oh-hyun apologized Wednesday for the deaths of more than 100 Samsung workers, whose families and rights groups say were exposed to cancer doing semiconductor assembly-line work.

After years of pressure from labor groups and families of Samsung factory workers who died from various cancers, the world’s largest maker of smartphones apologized to the families on Wednesday.

More than 100 workers have succumbed to leukemia and other forms of cancer since the early 1990s, illnesses which some believe are linked to inadequate protections in semiconductor-related assembly-line work.

"We should have settled the issue earlier, and we are deeply heartbroken that we failed to do so and express our deep apology,” Kwon Oh-hyun, one of the three chief executive officers of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (KRX:005935), said in a statement issued to several Korean news agencies. The CEO says Samsung will offer compensation to the victims or their families.

Samsung stopped short of claiming a direct link between assembly-line work involving computer chips and the adverse health effects and deaths. Samsung has faced ongoing pressure to be more forthcoming about the issue, which has been churning for years.

Families of sickened workers and rights groups like the Asian Transnational Corporation Monitoring Network forwarded from the Asian Human Rights Commission have said for years that Samsung working conditions and the illnesses were linked.

Lee Yun-jeong was one of these workers. On May 7, 2012, the 32-year-old Samsung semiconductor worker died from brain cancer. She had earlier sought compensation from the Korean government but was denied because she could not prove which toxins she had been exposed to.

The apology comes a month after opposition-party lawmaker Sim Sang-jeung proposed a resolution saying that 114 Samsung factory workers have been sickened since the 1990s from working on semiconductor assembly lines. Samsung has been resisting the move to apologize. In recent years Korean courts have ruled in favor of compensating these workers in only three of about a dozen cases, according to NPR. 

In January, 13 workers at Samsung’s $3.2 billion factory being constructed in Thai Nguyen province, Vietnam, were injured in a riot caused after guards attacked a worker for entering the site through an unauthorized door.

"We will do our utmost to prevent any such incidents from recurring in the future," Samsung said in a statement. 

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