(ATTN: ADDS details in para 3-6, 15)
By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- Samsung Electronics Co. made an agreement with victims of leukemia and other work-related diseases Tuesday to set up an independent body in charge of checking working conditions at its facilities as part of efforts to better prevent them.
The agreement, signed by representatives from Samsung Electronics and two groups representing the victims and their families, calls for establishing an ombudsman committee outside the firm, which will be charged with reviewing workplace safety measures.
The new body will be responsible for verifying the correlation between the working environment and diseases, and roll out medical check-ups and epidemiological research. Lee Cheol-soo, a law professor at Seoul National University, will head the ombudsman committee.
The committee will also release a report after it conducts its research. Samsung can exercise rights to officially oppose the report.
Other duties include requesting the company to revise its policy on business privacy to open undisclosed information on hazardous chemicals used at its chips and display facilities.
The committee will start working in 2016 and continue for three years, but the deadline can be extended for another three-year period.
The company will also open a health care center for its workers while continuing its research on work-related diseases, an arbitration committee in charge of settling the dispute said.
Samsung also agreed to expand the size and role of the organization in charge of workplace safety and health.
Controversy over Samsung's responsibility for workers' illnesses has been growing since 2007 after Hwang Yu-mi, a former employee at Samsung's chipmaking facility south of Seoul, died of leukemia.
Samsung's full-fledged efforts to settle the issue started in May 2014, when the tech giant officially promised compensation for the deaths and suffering of the victims for the first time.
The Protector of Health and Human Rights of Semiconductor Workers (SHARP), an advocacy group representing the victims who became ill or died while working at Samsung, claims more than 200 employees at its chip and display production lines are suffering from work-related diseases, with the death toll reaching 71 as of end-September. The figure has not been officially verified.
In August last year, Samsung vowed to create a 100 billion won (US$82.9 million) fund for compensation and research of work-related diseases.
Samsung, the world's leading maker of memory chips, smartphones and TVs, has been compensating the victims since September, with the number of recipients reaching 100 as of end-2015.
But Samsung and the victims' groups have not yet reached a final agreement on compensation and apologies, which have been at the heart of the prolonged debate.
"The three parties have reached an agreement amicably on the prevention plans. But their opinions differ on the compensation and apology issues. The mediation on the two cases are held off for now," an official from the arbitration body said.
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