Two Words Keep Sick Samsung Workers from Data: Trade Secrets

As a high school senior, Hwang Yu-mi went to work bathing silicon wafers in chemicals at a Samsung factory that makes computer chips for laptops and other devices. Four years later, she died of leukemia. She was 22.

After Yu-mi's death in 2007, her father, Hwang Sang-gi, learned a 30-year-old worker at the same semiconductor line also had died of leukemia. Convinced they died because of their work, the taxi driver launched a movement demanding the government investigate health risks at Samsung Electronics Co. factories.

When Hwang sued after his first claim for government compensation was denied, he struggled to get details about the factory environment. A government document he received about his daughter's workplace had a section for listing the chemicals used there, but that space was left blank because Samsung did not release that information to worker-safety officials.

An Associated Press investigation has found South Korean authorities have, at Samsung's request, repeatedly withheld from workers and their bereaved families crucial information about chemicals they were exposed to at its computer chip and liquid crystal display factories. Sick workers are supposed to have access to such data through the government or the courts so they can apply for workers' compensation from the state. Without it, government officials commonly reject their cases.

The justification for withholding the information? In at least six cases involving 10 workers, it was trade secrets. Court documents and interviews with government officials, workers' lawyers and their families show Samsung often cites the need to protect trade secrets when it asks government officials not to release such data.

"Our fight is often against trade secrets. Any contents that may not work in Samsung's favor were deleted as trade secrets," said Lim Ja-woon, a lawyer who has represented 15 sick Samsung workers.

Lim's clients have been unable to get access to full reports...

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