Exec-only presentation encourages intimidation of staff
A leaked presentation to Samsung executives has provided further insight into the company's damaged internal culture.
The PowerPoint document focuses on strategies to prevent the creation of labor unions at the South Korean company and takes a very aggressive stance, treating employees as enemies and suggesting "countermeasures" as well as ways to "dominate employees."
It also talks about "punishing" union leaders, isolating "troublesome" employees and "inducing internal conflicts" as a way of intimidating employees and preventing the creation of unions. The presentation is also dismissive of labor laws and government ministers that have proposed changes to protect employees.
The presentation [PPT] [PDF] is dated 2012, but appears to have been used repeatedly by Samsung executives up until two years ago. It was unearthed by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which drew a direct line between the approach demonstrated in the presentation and the recent aborted launch of the Galaxy Note 7 due to exploding batteries.
"Inhumane conditions are rife" at the company, the ITUC reports, noting that Samsung employees are overworked, under-paid and forced to suffer appalling conditions, including "standing for 11 to 12 hours, verbal and physical abuse, severe age and gender discrimination, and lack of worker safety."
It quotes one worker who claimed that during an intense three-month period in the run-up to the release of a Galaxy tablet she slept only two or three hours a night and had to give up breastfeeding her three-month-old baby as a result.
While the presentation takes a relentlessly aggressive stance toward the creation of labor unions – in fact the entire purpose of the presentation appears to be to develop greater coordination across all departments into order to squash them – it also makes clear that the company is aware of problems with its internal culture.
In a series of remarkable slides, it lists the insults that senior executives have been heard to hurl at employees. A vice-president of its electronics division is quoted as having said: "Fuckheads, you've never gotten what I'm saying" to employees, among other aggressive insults.
The executive director of the company's lighting division is quoted as having said: "Bitch, fuckin' asshole, I'll rip your trap. You've got to be careful," and "You, son of a bitch, why didn't you do what I'd ordered?"
Yet another executive is quoted as calling an employee a "fucking asshole" and threatening to keep an eye on another.
Amazingly, the presentation also includes the aggressive and unhappy responses from a senior executive to another senior exec because he didn't like the way he was treating employees. "When I saw you treating researchers like slaves, my blood boiled," he said. "I'll leave this dirty company, dirty organization with no regrets."
Life and death
The presentation also highlights positive developments, while acknowledging serious persistent problems.
One slides lists examples of employee deaths that have been attributed to overwork. One employee, Kim, killed himself and the presentation notes that he had worked 100 hours of overtime each month for nine months. A widow of a manager is quoted as saying he "died from overwork."
It then provides positive reinforcement of ensuring that overtime is not abused by listing positive cases when it has helped people and the company flourish.
The presentation also tackles sexual harassment, noting continued problems by saying: "If we fail to take clear actions against the accidents of sexual harassment, they will aggravate the image of our company by requesting petitions to the National Human Rights Commission, filing civil/criminal lawsuits, and involving mass media, etc."
And, in what is both an endearing and patronizingly cynical recommendation, the presentation notes that giving employees gifts – including signed photos of Samsung's CEO – for their birthdays, wedding anniversaries and childbirths can help contribute to a healthier workplace.
"If organizational culture is warm and caring, employees' complaints will be decreased, and their satisfaction and pride will be getting stronger, which leads interests to labor unions to naturally disappear," it notes.
Despite these positive efforts, there is no sign that Samsung takes anything but a negative view on labor unions, however. On one slide, it notes that while breaking union laws can come with a two-year jail sentence "in practice only amercement is enforced" – in other words, fines that the company will pay.
It also notes, somewhat unnervingly, that "in the case of facing a lawsuit on unfair labor practices, the existence of evidence is the crux of the matter." Which gives strong implicit justification to executives to behave badly so long as they make sure they don't leave a trail of evidence.
That culture was highlighted again this week when The New York Times reported that Samsung testers on the exploding Galaxy Note 7 smartphone were told not to communicate with one another electronically – no emails, instant messages or texts. They should only talk offline, the testers were told, to avoid producing potentially damaging information that could be picked up in a subpoena or lawsuit.
Quite how much Samsung toxic internal culture led to what may be the most embarrassing and damaging electronic recall of all time is hard to tell, but it is clear from this presentation and the cynical lessons that the organization appeared to have learned from past problems that it is not the nicest or happiest place to work.
We gave Samsung a lengthy opportunity to respond to the questions raised in the presentation and to provide examples of where its workplace culture has improved in recent years. We have yet to hear back from the company. ®
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