Global health and justice groups demand that TCO withdraw its sustainability certification award for Samsung’s S4 Smartphone

UPDATE: June 5, 2013: TCO Responds To Criticism Agrees to Investigate.

Occupational and Environmental health and justice and workers’ rights groups from Asia, Europe and North America today issued a joint statement condemning TCO Development – the Swedish certification organization – for awarding its first “Sustainability Certification” to Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Smartphone, in spite of the fact that Samsung has been severely criticized in South Korea and elsewhere for its dismal occupational safety and health record.   More than 180 young Samsung workers have developed occupational diseases such as cancer and 70 of them have already died after having been exposed to hazardous chemicals on the job.  In addition, a recent leakage of hydrogen fluoride in a Samsung semiconductor factory in Hwaseong killed another worker. (See the references below for further details).

Photo of samsung victim

Pictured: Yumi Hwang (1985~2007) and her father. She died of leukemia after working at a Samsung semiconductor factory.

“TCO’s action amounts to ‘green washing’ of the worst kind” said Sanjiv Pandita, Executive Director of Asia Monitor Resource Centre, based in Hong Kong.  “This perverse certification award sends the wrong signals which reward a company that has increased its market share while at the same time sacrificing the health of its workers. TCO has severely undermined its reputation by ignoring Samsung’s treatment of its workers.

Samsung is a company which has been at the forefront consistently in denying basic workers’ rights such as the right to organise, unionise and a right to a safe working environment – they certainly do not deserve recognition and credentials of this nature.”

“This action dishonors the memory of so many innocent young people who sacrificed their lives while working for Samsung” added Dr. Jeong-ok Kong, an occupational health physician working with the Supporters for Health and Right of People in Semiconductor Industry (SHARPS), which is based in South Korea.  Data collected by SHARPS and submitted to the South Korean government details how more than 180 young Samsung production workers have gotten cancer and other chronic diseases.

“This kind of irresponsible action by TCO gives the terms “green label” and “sustainability” a bad name and indicates that either TCO is unaware of Samsung’s callous disregard for their workers’ health or has decided to ignore the disturbing pattern of occupational illness, which would be even worse,” said Ted Smith, Coordinator of International Campaign for Responsible Technology, based in  San Jose California.  “TCO must not claim that its certification rewards ‘sustainable’ behavior – including social issues and occupational health – while at the same time failing to acknowledge the well documented cancer cluster at Samsung.”

“We are very disappointed in TCO Development because of its actions in this case” explained Hilda Palmer, Chair of the National Hazards Campaign in the UK.  “We’ve come to expect credible actions from TCO and we believe that the only way to correct this action is for TCO to withdraw its certification of Samsung’s S4 Galaxy and go back to the drawing board.  TCO must base its certifications based on the real world and require that a certified company have an exemplary record on occupational and environmental health as well as strict adherence to ILO requirements, and not base their decision merely on modest, unenforceable procedural niceties.”

“Sustainability certification is far too simple a tool to ensure respect for human rights in the complex global electronics” supply chain, added Pauline Overeem, Coordinator of Good Electronics, based in Amsterdam. “To address the grave labour issues in electronics manufacturing including the industry’s failure to provide safe workplaces, workers should have a say about their working and employment conditions. Enabling labour rights such as the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively are crucial. Samsung is clearly not the right example here.”


Company Products



Samsung Electronics Semiconductor






Mobile phone, Electronic components



Samsung Electromechanics Electronic components






Samsung Corning Glass for LCD



Samsung Techwin Camera, Robot, Other microelectronics








Background of the TCO Development Sustainability Certification (excerpts from TCO documents)

“Criteria in TCO Certified Smartphones are developed from a life cycle perspective, including requirements for socially responsible manufacturing, health/safety and the reduction of hazardous materials. Product compliance is verified by an independent, accredited third party.”

A TCO Certified smartphone must meet requirements in the following areas:

  • Socially responsible manufacturing
  • Environment
  • Ergonomics /health & safety

The criteria for TCO Certified include environmental and social aspects, and have been broadened from product focus to also include the production phase. This is a result of increased expectations around the world to respect human rights in the production and development of the products.

B.7 Corporate Social Responsibility (note that these criteria are procedural, not substantive with no metrics)

B.7.1.1 General Clarifications

TCO Development is from this version of the criteria taking the next step in relation to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by introducing an extended mandate regarding supply chain responsibility, since the way in which products are produced is gaining importance for consumers as well as professional buyers. Within the ICT industry supply chain responsibility is increasingly seen as a hygiene determinant.

We aim to be a sustainability label that assures good products in three relevant areas – environmental, social and ergonomics. We want the label to be proof for compliance with public procurement ethical criteria as well as with private sector CSR polices.

The Social performance criteria are based on the eight ILO core conventions and local legislation. This stipulates minimum standards as for the situation in the production facilities. ILO (International Labour Organization) is a United Nations specialized agency with the aim to promote social justice and humane working conditions.

B. Requires membership in the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC)

Initial Endorsing Organizations (in formation): 
SHARPS,   South Korea
ICRT: International Campaign for Responsible Technology, San Jose, CA USA
Good Electronics  Amsterdam, Netherlands
COSH    United States
Hazards Campaign, United Kingdom
FNV, Netherlands
Cereal, Guadalajara, Mexico
WorkSafe     United States
EHN, India
RightOn, Canada
 CIVDEP, India

Labor Action China, Hong Kong

IOHSAD, Philippines

Setem, Spain

Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas, USA