Workplace exposure to toxic chemicals lawsuit (re Taiwan)
In April 2004, 529 workers from the “RCA Victims Aid Organisation” and their families filed a lawsuit against RCA (Radio Corporation of America), Technicolor, Technicolor USA (originally known as Thomson Consumer Electronics), Thomson Consumer Electronics (Bermuda) and General Electric (GE) in the Taiwanese district court in Taipei over exposure to toxic solvents.
The factory was owned by RCA and produced components for televisions between 1967 and 1992. The other defendants were shareholders of RCA while the factory was in operation.
Represented by lawyers from the Taiwanese Legal Aid Foundation, the plaintiffs claimed that they had been exposed to cancerous chemicals while working for RCA and that RCA had not provided a safe working environment, adequate safety training nor professionally assessed the risks of using such chemicals. The chemicals had also contaminated groundwater used by the plaintiffs.
They alleged that this caused 61 of them to die of cancer and 243 to suffer from this disease. Under pressure from the government, GE and Thomson investigated and attempted to clean the groundwater between 1996 and 1998 but claimed that the contamination was irreversible.
RCA argued that the action should be dismissed because the plaintiffs had exceeded the limitation period, and that their allegations were incorrect as to the chemicals used and the time period involved. Technicolor USA (a former shareholder of RCA), said that they had no direct connection with the employees. GE (another former shareholder of RCA) supported RCA’s claims, adding that they had not caused damage to the plaintiffs’ health. Technicolor and Thomson (the main shareholder of RCA) did not provide any statement.
In 2005, the Taipei district court dismissed the case on procedural issues. The Supreme Court reversed this decision and ordered a retrial at the district court.
In 2007, the employees added Thomson, Technicolor USA and GE as defendants to the lawsuit. On 17 April 2015, the district court ruled in favour of the employees and ordered RCA, Technicolor, and Thomson to pay NT$564 million to 445 of the victims.
The plaintiffs and RCA are both considering an appeal. The Taiwanese Legal Aid Foundation and the Ministry of Labour are now urging other former workers to join the action.
- “Ex-RCA employees win Taiwan workplace lawsuit”, Taiwan Today, 20 Apr 2015
- “RCA parent firms to pay NT$560 mil.”, Stephanie Chao, China Post, 18 Apr 2015
- “RCA pollution trial begins in Taipei”, Want China Times, 12 Dec 2014
- “RCA, ex-workers to appeal ruling”, Lii Wen, Taipei Times, 27 May 2015
- “The Cancer Factory: RCA Workers Battle for Justice”, Teng Sue-feng and Phil Newell, Taiwan Panorama, Oct 2007