Samsung opens semiconductor factories to inspection over workers' illness

A workers' group finds the deal insufficient

Samsung Electronics has agreed to open up its semiconductor fabs for inspection, to settle a long-standing dispute with workers and their families who blame chemicals used in the company's fabrication processes for causing illnesses including leukemia.

The South Korean company said Tuesday it and two groups called The Family Committee and the Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry (SHARPS) had agreed to set up an independent ombudsman committee that will inspect Samsung’s facilities and suggest improvements, if any. The company promised to "faithfully" implement the proposed improvements.

Samsung described the deal as a "final settlement." The company announced in July last year a 100 billion won (US$83 million) fund, which would be used to support sick workers and their families.

More than 150 people have applied for support under the program of which 100 have accepted the financial aid, Samsung said on Tuesday. "Along with the financial aid, every recipient has received a heartfelt message of sympathy from Samsung’s CEO," the company said.

The role of Samsung's semiconductor factories in the illness of some workers came under a cloud after the death from leukemia in 2007 of a former employee.

In a factsheet updated in August last year, Samsung acknowledged that during or after their period of employment at its semiconductor fabrication plants, some employees had developed diseases that were difficult to treat. The company, however, said that no causal link had been established between the working conditions and the illness of the workers.

"While we respect the rulings of the Seoul Administrative Court, it is important to note that the Court acknowledged that there is no scientifically proven correlation between workplace environment and employee illness," it said.

On Tuesday, the company did not make a reference to the cause of the illness. In 2014, Samsung said in response to protests from workers and their families that it could have been more diligent in addressing the pains of former employees and the families of the deceased. “We feel regret that a solution for this delicate matter has not been found in a timely manner, and we would like to use this opportunity to express our sincerest apology to the affected people,” it said.

SHARPS could not be immediately reached for comment on the agreement. The organization plans to continue protests outside Samsung's headquarters in Seoul until the company acknowledges responsibility for the workers' illnesses, according to reports.

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