Samsung Electronics made an official apology to leukemia patients and their families for the first time since the issue emerged in 2007.
"Samsung has neglected pains and difficulties of the victims and their families. We offer our sincere apologies to them for not resolving the problem earlier," said Samsung Electronics CEO Kwon Oh- hyun, holding an extraordinary news conference at its Seoul office on Wednesday.
"We will make adequate compensation to employees, who suffered and died from work-related illnesses, working for Samsung Electronics' factories," he said.
For the compensation, Samsung said it would follow a plan created by a third party arbitrator. The company will also inspect safety management at the workplace to prevent a recurrence of the problem.
Samsung will withdraw the lawsuit it was partly involved in, Kwon said. The victims and their families filed a complaint against Korea Workers' Compensation & Welfare Service last January. Samsung was engaged as the outcome of the suit would also affect the company.
The leukemia issue dates back to 2007 when a worker, Hwang Yu-mi, who worked at Samsung's semiconductor manufacturing factory in Giheung, Gyeonggi Province, died from acute myeloid leukemia. Since then, activists have discovered 58 cases of leukemia and other blood-related cancers across several Samsung plants.
As to the issue, Samsung has taken diverse measures and invested in improving its safety-related infrastructure every year, the company's spokesperson said, though he did not specify the amount. However, industry watchers said Samsung's move has so far focused on demonstrating that the victims' deaths are not work-related illnesses, appearing somewhat defensive rather than solving fundamental problems.
In the year that Samsung has negotiated with an activity group named SHARP, which includes the families of sick workers, there has been no tangible outcomes.
Last month, leftwing lawmaker Shim Sang-jung held a press event, asking for adequate compensation, an official apology from Samsung Electronics, and safety improvements in the workplace.
In response to Samsung's announcement Wednesday, Shim said, "As the company showed its willingness to deal with the issue, I hope it will be settled in collaboration with the victims."