Samsung Electronics has issued an apology and promised compensation for chip factory workers who developed cancers linked to chemical exposure.
The move marks a rare win for families and activists, who have been seeking to hold the company to account for seven years, following the death of 23-year-old employee Hwang Yu-mi from cancer.
Samsung said the apology does not mean the company concedes a link between the chemicals used in its chip factories and cancer and other diseases.
But a statement released on Wednesday admitted that the company should have sought a solution sooner and served as a form of vindication for workers and their families.
Local news channels in Seoul, South Korea, showed Samsung’s vice chairman Kwon Oh-hyun reading out the emailed statement in front of reporters. He said that the world's largest maker of smartphones and memory chips would compensate workers and their families.
“We feel regret that a solution for this delicate matter has not been found in a timely manner, and we would like to use this opportunity to express our sincerest apology to the affected people,” Mr Kwon said
The statement comes a month after opposition party lawmaker Sim Sang-jeung urged the government and Samsung to come up with measures to help victims and prevent workplace diseases. The resolution proposed by Sim in April said 114 of 243 workers who had fallen ill since the 1990s were former Samsung semiconductor employees.
For the past few years, Samsung has resisted calls to apologize. The company also provided assistance to a government compensation agency in legal battles over the agency's refusal to pay compensation to workers. In South Korea, companies pay levies that the government uses to fund compensation for workplace accidents and illnesses.
Courts have ruled in favour of compensation in three of about a dozen cases. The government agency, Korea Workers' Compensation and Welfare Service, appealed.
Mr Kwon said Samsung will no longer be involved in the lawsuits.
Former Samsung workers, their families and civil groups struggled for years to raise awareness about the cancer cases.
Last year, the story of Hwang Yu-mi, who died from leukaemia in 2007, and her father's legal battles, was made into a film funded by donations and brought more attention to the possible link between conditions at Samsung's older factories and cancers in workers.
Sim, the lawmaker, and SHARP, the advocacy group that helped Hwang's father and the families of other victims, welcomed Samsung's apology and urged the company to begin discussions about compensation.
Samsung watchers say the cancer controversy is a sticking point that Lee Kun-hee, Samsung's chairman and son of the group's founder, wants to resolve before passing leadership to his own son. Lee, 72, is in hospital in a stable condition after suffering a heart attack on Saturday.
Additional reporting by Associated PressReuse content