Op-Ed: Silicon Valley Health, Labor, Environmental Groups Call on Samsung to Protect Workers

An International Day of Action against Samsung to protest health, labor and human rights violations by the electronics giant took place earlier this week on May Day in Asia, Europe and the United States—including in San Jose.

The actions, in solidarity with Samsung factory workers everywhere, included delivery of several petitions with over 200,000 signatures calling on Samsung to protect their hundreds of thousands of electronics factory workers around the world. Demands for transparency come on the heels of a Samsung lawsuit against the South Korean government where the company is fighting to prevent public disclosure of hazardous chemicals monitoring information.

Activists in Silicon Valley discovered in the 1970s that electronics production is chemically intensive, using many hazardous chemicals that sickened many workers and community residents. Serious occupational illnesses were documented in workers (and their children) at many high profile Silicon Valley companies. As these companies outsourced their production, so too have the hazards been outsourced. Groups in many other parts of the world have begun to document similar patterns.

The South Korean occupational health advocacy group, SHARPS, has documented over 300 cases of cancer and other serious illnesses in electronics industry workers, many of them suffered by workers at Samsung factories. At least 118 Samsung factory workers in South Korea have died due to occupational illnesses since 2007. The South Korean government and courts have connected a growing number of cases of serious occupational illness to work in Samsung factories.

Samsung is receiving increased international pressure to address labor, health, and human rights violations and to disclose the dangerous chemicals its workers are exposed to in its factories. Samsung, say organizers, is the tip of the iceberg of an industry that must become more transparent about chemical use and accountable to health, safety and human rights of workers. In March, three UN Human Rights Experts expressed concern about reports of threats against factory workers and civil society organizations who reported on unhealthy working conditions at Samsung Vietnam factories.

Samsung campaigners joined with a spirited May Day crowd at Roosevelt Park in San Jose and then marched to City Hall for a rally led by the Tezkatlipoka Aztec Dance and Drum group. Under the theme of “Sow, Grow, Know,” the May Day celebration brought together labor rights campaigners from SEIU, CWA, AFT, LiUNA and other local unions as well as cultural and progressive political organizers, including immigration advocates, affordable housing activists, local faith organizations such as PACT, as well as Chicano and Filipino justice campaigns.

After the rally, when it got dark, some supporters of the Samsung workers projected slogans onto the Samsung HQ: “Clean Up Samsung” and “Human Rights Violation.”

Click here to sign the petition to protect Samsung workers around the world.

Ted Smith is the founder and former executive director of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and coordinator of the International Campaign for Responsible Technology. Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Interested in writing an op-ed? Email pitches to [email protected].

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