BRUSSELS -- A group of representatives from non-government organizations today challenged members of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition to take meaningful actions to prevent harm to workers and their communities through better chemical safety.

More than 200 civil society groups from electronics production countries and across the globe have reportedly endorsed the strategy. They are pressing the EICC, an industry association representing over 100 electronics companies, this week in Brussels for changes in chemical management. 

The measure comes in response to the deaths of nearly three dozen workers, most at a Samsung chip plant in South Korea, who developed leukemia or lymphoma. A total of 11 are reported to have died, including Yumi Hwang, 23, who worked for several years at a Samsung plant, and was subject of a court battle during which her illness was reported to be a case of occupational disease. 

Among the labor groups, environmental organizations, occupational health & safety experts, human rights organizations and other groups that signed on are the GoodElectronics Network and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology. The NGOs are demanding improved disclosure, substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives, protection of workers, freedom of association, participation of workers in workplace monitoring, environmental protection, and the need for compensation of workers, communities and the environment for harm done.

"The industry should assume responsibility and take meaningful action beyond their current weak standards and ineffective auditing systems," said a press release issued on behalf of the GoodElectronics Network, an NGO that advocates for worker rights and environmental sustainability.

"It’s astonishing that the most technically savvy companies in the world, whose names are on our electronics, say they still don’t know all of the materials used in their own products or in their supply chain production factories,” said Ted Smith of ICRT. “What we need from this important industry is safe jobs and healthy families, where the next generation of children is at least as important as the next generation of chips.”

EICC has set up a chemical task force, but critics claim the corporate audits do not find that work-related chemicals-induced illnesses are a problem. “These corporate audits don’t uncover chemical exposures and other labor rights violations all the way down the supply chain,” said Pauline Overeem, coordinator of the GoodElectronics Network. “There is a clear disconnect between audits findings and the grim reality in many factories. That’s why we are challenging the industry to clean up its act now.”

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