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Workplace exposure to toxic chemicals lawsuit (re Taiwan)

ex-RCA employees celebrate美国无线电公司(RCA)诉讼案(有关台湾工人受有毒化学品侵害)

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

 

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Article
27 May 2015

RCA, ex-workers to appeal ruling

Author: Lii Wen, CNA

The decade-long legal battle between Radio Corp of America (RCA) and its former employees is expected to continue, as both parties intend to appeal the latest ruling on the case.

The Legal Aid Foundation…urged former employees to join the RCA Self-Help Association’s campaign to demand compensation for occupational diseases…The…Association…said that the company should be held responsible for more than 1,300 cases of cancer diagnosed among former RCA employees after the company shut down in 1992.

Legal Aid Foundation executive-secretary Chen Wei-hsiang…said that…former employees are eligible to participate in the association and upcoming legal action as long as they sign up before June 19 through the foundation’s special hotlines…

Association president Liu Ho-yun…said that the group has received 100 to 200 calls per day since the court ruling was announced last month…She said many new members of the association are cancer patients…

Ministry of Labor Department of Labor Relations Director Wang Hou-wei…said the ministry is to provide financial assistance to the workers for legal expenses through a special fund…

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Article
20 April 2015

Ex-RCA employees win Taiwan workplace lawsuit

Author: Taiwan Today

A landmark verdict awarding NT$560 million (US$17.97 million) in damages for workplace health and safety violations to…former Radio Corporation of America employees in Taiwan was handed down April 17 by Taipei District Court.

The court ruled that the now-defunct…electronics manufacturer allowed toxic chemical waste to impact the health of its workers…This allegedly caused more than 2,000 individuals to develop cancer and claimed 260 lives.

Launched in 2004, the action sought damages of NT$2.7 billion from RCA, General Electronics Co. and Thomson Consumer Electronics. The court exonerated GE from any responsibility.

RCA operated in northern Taiwan from 1970 to 1992, with major facilities in Hsinchu County and Taoyuan City employing…thousands of workers and producing television sets and various consumer electronics.

The Taoyuan facility was taken over by GE in 1986 and later purchased by… Technicolor SA. The France-based firm shuttered the plant in 1992 and sold the property to a local real estate developer.

Former Legislator Chao Shao-kang brought the situation to light in 1994, and four years later the Environmental Protection Administration declared the site unfit for real estate development after confirming ground water contamination. A Cabinet-level task force was organized in 1999 to investigate the case, but later disbanded…

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Article
18 April 2015

RCA parent firms to pay NT$560 mil.

Author: Stephanie Chao, China Post

The decade-long lawsuit against…parent firms of Radio Corporation of America…bore results…as the Taipei District Court…deemed the RCA brand and four related companies' usage of carcinogenic ingredients…had a direct correlation to many of the former employees' cancer diagnoses. General Electric…Technicolor (formally Thomson SA), Technicolor U.S.A and Thomson Consumer Electronics (Bermuda)…were ruled to be responsible in the lawsuit as well…

The Taoyuan County Former RCA Employees' Solicitude Association…acted as the plaintiff in the case and successfully secured NT$560 million in compensation for nearly 450 employees of the 529 former RCA workers…

While former employees…[of] the RCA factory in Taoyuan were eligible for payment, workers at RCA facilities in Yilan and Hsinchu were deemed ineligible…Other factors disqualifying workers from compensation included failure to take legal action during the designated time frame…decided by RCA's parent firms or failure to take legal action within two years of a cancer diagnosis.

…Despite the court's ruling, The Association's attorney…said that it is still possible The Association will not collect its compensation, as there are no funds being held in Taiwan under the RCA brand name…

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Article
12 December 2014

RCA pollution trial begins in Taipei

Author: Want China Times

The first trial of the lawsuit against Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was held in Taiwan's Taipei District Court on Friday. Lawyers for both sides were expected to make their final arguments…

Chen Wei-jian, head of National Taiwan University's College of Public Health, blasted RCA for…ignoring the hazardous effects it would have on the environment and workers after it closed its doors…Chen said it was legal loopholes that allowed such unethical businesses practices to take place.

…The US company opened factories in Taoyuan and Hsinchu in northern Taiwan in 1967. During its 22 years of operation, over 80,000 people were empl[o]yed…Emissions from factories included carcinogens…the harmful effects of which were not brought to light until…1994.

An RCA Pollution Victims Aid Organization was set up in order to track down workers whose health was affected…The group has…tracked down 1,451 former employees, yet 260 have already died…None of them have received any compensation.

The organization, formed by…former…workers, flied the lawsuit against RCA, General Electric and three foreign companies in 2004. However, due to the fact that that…the fact that the statue of limitation…[had] expired…the court did not summon victims until 2009. The organization demands compensation of NT$2.4 billion (US$77 million)…

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Article
1 October 2007

The Cancer Factory: RCA Workers Battle for Justice

Author: Teng Sue-feng and Phil Newell, Taiwan Panorama

1969: RCA builds a plant in Taiwan.
1970: The RCA Taoyuan plant goes into operation, making electronic parts for televisions. At its peak, the plant employs over 18,000 people.
1986: The Taoyuan plant is acquired by GE, another US firm.
1988: The Taoyuan plant is acquired by Thomson, a French firm.
1992: Thomson discovers that the groundwater at the plant site has been contaminated by pollutants and closes the factory. Taiwan's Ever Fortune Group buys the land and prepares to develop a shopping center.
1994: Legislator Jaw Shau-kong reveals the pollution at the RCA plant; the EPA creates a task force to investigate.
1997: The government orders GE and Thomson to deal with the groundwater pollution.
1998: GE and Thomson issue a report declaring the impossibility of cleaning up the groundwater. Ever Fortune files a lawsuit in the US, claiming Thomson concealed knowledge of the pollution.
1998: The RCA Mutual Aid Association petitions the Control Yuan for an investigation. Victimized workers appear in person to charge that their working environment caused their illnesses. The Executive Yuan sets up an interdepartmental taskforce to coordinate research and financial support...
2002: A team of attorneys, working pro bono, is formed to help RCA workers. A civil suit is filed, but it is discovered that most RCA Taiwan assets have been extracted from Taiwan….
2006: The LAF takes the case.
2007: Thomson is added as a co-defendant, and the legal process continues.

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