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RB Korea under fire for ‘partial’ compensation plan in disinfectant case

Household products company Reckitt Benckiser Korea, which has been blamed for the largest number of victims from the use of toxic humidifier disinfectants since 2011, came under fire for its compensation plan that only covers victims classified as categories 1-2 by the government.

Victims, their families and civic groups remain opposed to the plan, as it neglects victims classified under categories 3-4, whose suffering was deemed less directly connected to the problematic products.

They denounced the plans, accusing it of being “for show” prior to a trial on an appeal case of RB Korea’s former CEO Shin Hyun-woo next week. In January, Shin was convicted for skipping the due safety tests for the disputed products and for using false advertisements. 

A group of victims and civic activists are staging a protest in front of Reckitt Benckiser Korea in Yeouido, Seoul, Monday. (The Asian Citizen‘s Center for Environment and Health)
A group of victims and civic activists are staging a protest in front of Reckitt Benckiser Korea in Yeouido, Seoul, Monday. (The Asian Citizen‘s Center for Environment and Health)

Monday’s announcement comes a year after the company promised to provide up to 350 million won ($290,000) to victims of categories 1 and 2.

“According to the government, 52 more victims were newly included in categories 1 and 2 through the government investigation in May, in addition to 183 victims classified in January. We would like to offer all of them compensation,” Shin Hye-jeong, director of RB Korea, told The Korea Herald.

Under the compensation plan, the company will reimburse previous medical treatment costs and nursing fees for the victims, based on the proof of document. Up to 1 billion won and lifelong medical treatment will be compensated for the deaths of infant and child victims, by calculating the amount of income that a victim would have been able to make if not affected by the toxic humidifier.

“We hope the compensation plan that reflects the situations and inputs of the victims and families would provide some remedy for the pain and suffering they have endured. We once again express our heart-felt apology for the pain and suffering caused by the tragedy,” Park Dong-suk, CEO of RB Korea, said in a statement.

So far, 162 people have reached a settlement with the company over the compensation, the company said.

Gapimo, a group of victims and their families, however, argued that only a few will benefit from the plan, as a small number are classified under categories 1-2 through the government’s investigation.

“Overall, at least 800 victims were recognized with health damage by the government, while there are over 5,000 victims from the use of Oxy products. RB Korea needs to come up with a ‘proper’ compensation plan that covers all victims who suffered for so long,” said Kang Chan-ho, head of Gapimo.

“The company’s release of a compensation plan looks like it is to impress the new administration, hoping the situation changes favorably for them,” he said.

According to the government’s current victim verification process, set in 2014, the scale goes from 1-4, with one being highly certain the health damage resulted from the use of toxic humidifier disinfectants, based on personal clinical results, diagnostic images and the level of exposure.

RB Korea is responsible for some 4.4 million toxic humidifier disinfectants sold between 2000 and 2014, accounting for 62 percent of the total volume in the humidifier disinfectant market.

As of July 7, 982 victims, mostly of lung failure, have been formally recognized as being linked to the products. Damage claims filed this year have reached over 5,600.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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