SEOUL, Korea, Mar 16, 2014 (Korea Bizwire) – A documentary film “The Empire of Shame,” featuring the travail of Samsung Electronics chip plant workers suffering from occupational hazards, has been released on the seventh anniversary of Hwang Yu-mi’s death on March 6, 2007. This is an embarrassing run of events for the world’s biggest chip maker as it had to put out a fire only a month ago triggered by “Another Family” a fictional film inspired by a decade-long search for the truth by the father of Hwang.
The documentary begins with a monologue, “I landed a job at a workplace everybody envied of. I was diagnosed with leukemia working in that place.” Most scenes of the documentary are filled with interviews with former Samsung workers who came down with conditions suspected of being caused by daily contact with toxic chemicals at the chip factories.
For Samsung, embarrassment doesn’t end there. After the documentary film won the Ockrang Cultural Foundation award as well as the 15-million-won award money at the International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul, it was later reported, Samsung pulled its sponsorship out of the film festival. The documentary has since been funded mostly by private donations and crowd funding by Tumblbug, a social enterprise. In addition, CGV Wangsimni abruptly cancelled a press preview for the documentary and the venue had to be moved to the Indie Space, the movie theater for independent films.
Earlier on February 6 when the fictional film was released, Samsung had to go through a public relations nightmare. At the time, most multiplex movie theaters run by large companies did not show the movie. To this, advocacy groups decried collusion under pressure by Samsung, with the general public sympathizing with the view.
Buckling under public pressure, a total of 100-or-so movie theaters including CGV (45 theaters), Megabox (25), Lotte Cinema (17), and independent (21) subsequently agreed to carry the film. But the total admission numbers were 480,000, only a 20th of mega-hit movies that ring up more than 10 million viewers. A senior manager at Samsung Electronics posted a message on Samsung Tomorrow, the company’s official blog site, lamenting, “It is not right to accuse an honest company of falsifying the truth by means of a film.” But the public opinion is not kind to this view.
To add insult to injury, Samsung was voted as the worst company in third place, after the companies Vale and TEPCO, at the Public Eye Awards 2012. The awards are organized by the environmental organization Greenpeace Switzerland and the NGO Berne Declaration. The organizers said Samsung was picked as one of the six worst companies in the world as it allowed its chip plants to use hazardous chemicals that led to 140 cancer cases of which 50 ended up with death.
Still, Samsung is not repentant. It is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge its mistake in causing industrial accidents and pay compensation to the victims. An official of an interest group for large corporations said, “Regardless of how many people come to see the documentary, the damage to Samsung’s reputation would be incalculable. Unless Samsung comes to terms with the situation in a truthful manner, the issue will hurt the company for years to come.”