The Blind | A report on methanol poisoning cases in supply chains for Samsung and LG Electronics in Korea

The book is edited and translated from the research report titled “Follow-up study on the acute methanol poisoning victims in cell phone manufacturing subcontractors with recommendations for improvement.” The original report was prepared and published in December 2016 by Solidarity for Workers’ Health, a NGO that advocates for workers’ health and safety and the prevention of occupational injuries and diseases commissioned by Korean Industrial Hygiene Association.

From January 2015 to February 2016, at least six workers developed acute methanol poisoning while working on the third-tier suppliers manufacturing cell phone parts for Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics. All of the workers had been working on the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) process cutting small aluminum parts for cell phones such as USIM trays. They had to manage 5 to 20 machines per person. The machines spray out methanol all the time as methanol was used as aluminium cutting oil. The standard manual recommends the use of ethanol not methanol. However, the subcontractors used methanol as it is much cheaper than ethanol with similar function. Methanol is toxic damaging optic nerves. However the workers were neither informed of the danger of methanol nor provided with safety measures.

Furthermore, these third-tier suppliers illegally used temporary dispatched workers, which is direct violation of Korean labor laws. The workers had to work 12 hours a day in order to make up their low wage. Some worked only on night shift as it gives higher hourly wage. Temporary workers are often not registered for the four major social insurances (health, employment, workers compensation and pension). They also have no protection from arbitrary dismissal. The first reported victim had no time to notify his absence to his factory in advance as he was hospitalized at a hospital immediately. However, no one asked his whereabouts.



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