Samsung, also known as The Samsung Group, is a South Korean multinational technology conglomerate headquartered in Seoul. The Samsung Group is the parent company of multiple Samsung subsidiaries including Samsung Electronics, Samsung SDI, and more.
Samsung was originally founded as a grocery store in 1938 by Lee Byung-chul. First located in Taegu (now known as Daegu), Samsung expanded its business to Seoul in 1947 but left at the beginning of the Korean War. Byung-chul then began expanding Samsung elsewhere, building a sugar refinery and textile mill before moving into the insurance, machinery, electronics, and shipbuilding industries, among others. In 1969, Samsung established Samsung Electronics. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the subsidiary has steadily grown to become Samsung's majority revenue generator.
In 1980, Samsung entered the telecommunications industry, beginning by building telephone switchboards. Over the following decades, Samsung began producing telephones, fax machines, computers, printers, semiconductors, and mobile phones. Samsung has become one of the world's top producers of semiconductors by revenue, along with companies like Intel, TSMC, and Qualcomm. At the start of the 21st century, Samsung became more focused on producing televisions and mobile phones, releasing its first smartphone in 2001 and several LCD televisions in the early and mid-2000s. Samsung launched its most commercially successful smartphone series in 2010 with the Galaxy S. Since then, Samsung has released a new Galaxy line phone every year, ending on the Galaxy S10 in 2019. In 2020, Samsung changed the continuing model numbers to reflect the new decade and released the Galaxy S20.
The Samsung Group has both acquired and spun out several subsidiaries in a number of industries. Some of its well-known subsidiaries include Samsung Electronics, Samsung SDI, Samsung SDS, Samsung Life Insurance, Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance, and Samsung Engineering.
The Samsung Group has been under fire for a number of scandals and controversial practices over the years. Despite this, the company was named number one on Forbes's World's Best Employers list in both 2020 and 2021, based off surveys of 150,000 multinational company workers from fifty-eight countries.
In July 2014, Samsung was accused of using Chinese suppliers who engaged in child labor practices. The accusation came after an undercover investigation by China Labor Watch at the factory Dongguan Shinyang Electronics, which provided cell phone parts to Samsung. The investigation claimed to have found five factory workers under the age of sixteen, all without contracts, working eleven-hour shifts while being paid for only $10. Samsung's own audit report, released just one month prior to the investigation, stated that no instances of child labor were found after an examination of each of its 138 Chinese suppliers. Factory conditions were also evaluated during the investigation. The examination revealed that student workers received no overtime pay, and no workers received safety training despite twenty-four hours of training being required by Chinese law.
Days after the results of the undercover investigation, Samsung halted relations with Dongguan Shinyang Electronics, pending the results of an investigation by Chinese authorities. One week later, the factory halted production indefinitely, also pending the results of the investigation. The investigation was concluded in August 2014; the results found that the underage workers had used false identification records to obtain employment, and Samsung resumed its relationship with the factory.
In January 2018, two human rights group in France, Sherpa and ActionAid France, filed a lawsuit against Samsung, accusing the company of false advertising and deceptive trade practices. The accusations were based on documents from China Labor Watch that detailed its findings of child labor and excessive work hours, as well as dangerous working conditions. Samsung France was indicted in April 2019 under charges of misleading advertising, punishable by criminal law in France.
Several Samsung supplier chip factory workers in South Korea reported developing illnesses during or after working at the factory. It was revealed in August 2016 through an investigation by the Associated Press that South Korean authorities allowed Samsung to withhold information about the chemicals that sick workers were exposed to, which makes it practically impossible for sick workers in the country to receive government compensation for occupational diseases. A worker-safety group documented more than 200 cases of serious illnesses and diseases among former Samsung Electronics workers, specifically semiconductor and LCD workers. Documented diseases found in workers included multiple cases of leukemia, lupus, lymphoma, and multiple sclerosis; the illnesses resulted in seventy-six deaths, with most victims being in their 20s and 30s.
Samsung's stated reason for withholding chemical information from workers was to keep trade secrets. While South Korean law prohibits governments and public agencies from withholding corporate information that can affect the health of workers on the grounds of trade secrets, consequences for violations are not enforced. Samsung stated that the company provided transparent chemical information when required, but documents filed with courts and the country's labor ministry showed that Samsung had asked the South Korean government not to disclose chemical exposure levels, even at the request of a judge in workers' compensation lawsuits. Prior to these released findings, Samsung had offered to issue private payments to the families of several dead workers in exchange for not pursuing the matter in court; many families accepted the money due to financial hardships resulting from caring for the sick workers, but others rejected the deal in favor of a lawsuit.
In November 2018, Samsung, for the first time, publicly acknowledged the victims who became ill or died from factory conditions over the prior decades and issued an apology. It agreed to a compensation package to be paid to both former and current employees suffering from illness or disease directly related to chemical exposure from the factory; Samsung stated it would pay up to 150 million won to each victim, equivalent to about $132,000 at the time.