Samsung Workers And Their Kids Are Dying, But Please Enjoy Your Cheap Black Friday TV

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semiconductor workerAre you enjoying the Samsung television you got for the low, low price of $5 and a few trampled elderly people on Black Friday? I hope you are, because the real cost of your new TV is much higher than that: try a multitude of cancers, reproductive problems, and devastatingly sick children for the workers at Samsung’s Korean semiconductor factory.

Huffington Post Korea, in partnership with Korean daily newspaper the Hankyoreh, is putting out a new reporting series about the long-term effects suffered by the children of the Samsung workers who are exposed to ionizing radiation and dangerous chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde during the process of manufacturing semiconductors. (Which in addition to being carcinogenic both reek – formaldehyde smells like, well, formaldehyde, and benzene has an overpoweringly sweet, good-luck-with-that-migraine odor. Some of Samsung’s workers used to put in 12-hour shifts every day, and I can’t imagine having to smell this stuff all day long like that.)

In May of this year, Korean courts recognized Samsung’s liability for a few – a very few – of the cases of leukemia among the company’s former employees, but until now, not much had been written about the effects suffered by the next generation. But HuffPo is now sharing the story of a former Samsung worker using the pseudonym Kim Hee-eun, and her son Gunoo. Gunoo has been in and out of the hospital with digestive health issues his entire life, starting with his failure to pass meconium when he was born and continuing through years of vomiting and constant diarrhea – a condition doctors attributed to his malformed, twisted intestine. As an infant, the boy went through multiple surgeries, and by the time he was eight months old, he had to have his entire large intestine removed. At age 15 now, he’s terrified of using public restrooms for fear of making a mess or embarrassing himself.

When Hee-eun met up with her former Samsung colleagues years after leaving the factory, she was shocked to realize how many of them had suffered their own reproductive health problems, too, including infertility and miscarriages. The collection of health issues made Hee-eun think about the way she’d had to scrub her own chemical-protective gear clean after her shifts – it turns out that protective gear doesn’t do a lot in the way of protecting once you take it off and start splashing hot water all over the chemical-splattered side. She also recalls working with those dangerous, cancer-tastic chemicals without ever being instructed to wear a mask to protect herself from the fumes being produced. Now Hee-eun herself is suffering from both thyroid and skin cancer, too, and since the insurance for her thyroid cancer only provides five years of coverage, she doesn’t know what she’ll do when that expires next year.

Everyone loves a good sale, but in this case, the price is just way too high. 92 former Samsung employees have died of leukemia and other cancers, out of almost 250 who have become sick so far, but only 3 of those have been ruled “industrial accidents”. And so those are the only ones whose families are eligible to get compensation from Samsung, who is still denying that their electronics empire was built on the backs of these low-wage workers and their children. It’s been hard enough to squeeze even the acknowledgement of those three worker’s deaths out of Samsung, which is something of an icon to South Korea (as well you might expect for a company whose income last year was 17% of the country’s GDP). It’s hard to read reports like those of what’s happened to Kim Hee-eun and Gunoo, but if that’s what it takes to hold Samsung’s feet to the fire and find some accountability, then we need to hear it.

(Image: Dragon Images/Shutterstock)