SEOUL, South Korea — When she began working at a Samsung Electronics factory as a semiconductor assembly line worker at the age of 18, Kim Mi-seon says she was given a clean bill of health by company doctors. By the time Kim left three years later, she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which scientists believe is triggered by environmental factors. Now, the nervous system disease has left Kim nearly blind.
Even over a decade after being diagnosed with MS, 35-year-old Kim can only shake her head and say, “I didn’t think I would one day be unable to recognize my own mother.”
Kim suspects that her illness — which occurs at a rate of about four in 100,000 in South Korea — was caused by the toxic substances she was exposed to on the job. She is joined by over 200 other former Samsung Electronics workers who have reported that they suffer from illnesses they believe were caused by their workplace.
On Sept. 19, Samsung announced that it would begin accepting applications for compensation for the first time since the issue came to light in 2007, when 22-year-old Samsung Electronics factory worker Hwang Yu-mi died from acute myeloid leukemia. But for many victims, the move is not a victory. “I don't agree with it at all,” said Kim, who is boycotting Samsung's plan. “They're just plowing through with no regard for the arbitration process that they themselves agreed to.”
Though victims and their families have been fighting for reparations for Samsung for nearly 10 years, the company has denied any formal responsibility. Since 2007, 71 Samsung factory employees have died, according to South Korean advocacy group SHARPS (Supporters of the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry), and some, like Kim, are seriously disabled.