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Samsung decision to compensate sick electronics workers welcomed by UN expert, urging action by all firms

GENEVA (27 August 2018) – The UN expert on toxics and human rights has welcomed a decision by the electronics giant Samsung to accept unconditionally an arbitration proposal on compensation for South Korean workers who have suffered serious illnesses while working for the company and on measures to prevent any recurrence.

“I am pleased that Samsung Electronics will accept the results of the pending arbitration over the loss of life and health impacts on workers manufacturing their products,” said Baskut Tuncak, the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of hazardous substances and wastes.

“This is a step in the right direction by a global business enterprise, recognising their responsibility for providing victims an effective remedy and what I hope will ensure higher standards in worker protection to prevent any recurrence, although I would have wished to see this decision taken years ago,” the expert added.

“I encourage Samsung and other businesses in the electronics sector to further enhance the protection of workers throughout their global operations,” Mr Tuncak said.

The agreement signed on 24 July 2018, between the electronics giant and the civil society group representing workers, marks a milestone in a decade-long dispute over allegations of unhealthy working conditions at Samsung Electronics.

More than 250 workers have alleged that their health has been affected by exposure to toxic substances in the manufacture of semiconductor chips and LCD panels. Some have become ill with cancer, some have suffered miscarriages and there have been a range of other health issues.

The alleged victims were mostly women of reproductive age and their children. The issues were addressed by the Special Rapporteur during his 2015 visit to South Korea.

“Workers’ rights are human rights. No one should be denied their basic human rights, including the rights to life and health because of the work they perform,” stressed Mr Tuncak.

“Businesses have responsibilities throughout the lifecycle of their products, from the extraction of raw materials, through to manufacture, use and final disposal, as well as up and down their supply chains. They have a responsibility to ensure that they and their suppliers, both at home and abroad, adopt good practices to prevent exposure to toxic substances through their products’ lifecycles, their operations and their services.”

The Special Rapporteur hopes to see further positive steps being taken in the future, including protection of the rights of victims across the manufacturing sectors of electrical and electronic products by Samsung, in addition to those covered by the present agreement. 

In September, Mr. Tuncak will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council, calling on States and employers to strengthen protection for workers from exposure to toxic substances, and proposing appropriate guidelines.

ENDS

Mr. Baskut Tuncak is Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms Lilit Nikoghosyan (+41 22 9179936 / lnikoghosyan@ohchr.org) or write to srtoxics@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

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