According to the Washington Post, a small group of former Samsung employees  has alleged that toxic work environments have led to a number of serious, rare ailments among Samsung employees. These workers claim that exposure to dangerous chemicals at Samsung plants has caused hundreds of occurrences of rare diseases over the last 20 years.

Although these allegations have existed for years, the Korean government is beginning to take notice, with a number of legislators demanding Samsung explain the high number of rare illnesses. Samsung, while maintaining that it’s plants meet or exceed industry safety standards, and denying responsibility, has publicly apologized for not addressing the “pain and distress” of those with the rare illnesses.

In some cases, Korea’s government-operated worker compensation fund has ruled these illnesses to be job related, while in other cases denying benefits. Many of those latter cases are now in Korea’s court system, where Samsung and the government are fighting their claims.

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For many years, Korea’s giant corporations have enjoyed an almost supra-legal status in their home country, driving the economic growth that fueled Korea’s rise from a 3rd world nation to a major industrial power. But, as has happened in most other industrial countries, the social climate is changing, and social welfare and corporate responsibility are becoming much more important issues. And Samsung is becoming much more concerned with its image, not just its products.

Samsung is Korea’s largest corporation, accounting for 20% of Korea’s GDP (gross domestic product). By comparison, the largest US corporation, Walmart, accounts for about 3% of US GDP.

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