South Korea's abusive tycoons should learn to behave: The Korea Herald

A labourer works at the main factory of Hyundai Motor in Ulsan, South Korea.
A labourer works at the main factory of Hyundai Motor in Ulsan, South Korea. PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Apr 12, the newspaper reprimands the wealthy for not treating their employees well.

Reports on chaebol scions and business owners accused of abusing their employees never cease, fueling anti-corporate public sentiment and raising serious questions about the ethical standard of Korean business leaders.

The latest case involves Mr Chung Il Sun, president of Hyundai BNG Steel, an affiliate of Hyundai-Kia Motor Group that manufactures stainless steel products. He is one of the grandsons of the late Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju Yung.

On Friday, a local media outlet reported that he had habitually abused his drivers verbally and physically. Mr Chung's drivers said he swore and used violence against them when they failed to follow a 140-page driving manual.

The manual shows how inhumanely Mr Chung treated his drivers. It says, for instance, that when a driver receives a text message saying "Let's go" from Mr Chung, he should rush to the car "like a blue streak" and begin waiting for the boss 30 minutes before departure.

The manual even tells drivers to ignore traffic signs if possible, when Mr Chung tells them to step on it.

He was quick to admit his misbehaviour. He posted an apology on the company's website hours after his abuse of his drivers was exposed. But the apology was not enough to quell the public's anger.

Mr Chung's case is similar to that of Mr Lee Hae Wook, the vice chairman of Daelim Industrial, which was brought to light last month. The loud public outcry over Mr Lee's inhumane treatment of his chauffeurs probably gave Mr Chung's drivers the courage to come forward to disclose how he treated them.

Mr Lee, who is set to take the reins of the group from his father, reportedly ordered his drivers to change lanes without checking the side-view mirrors, a nonsensical instruction that put the lives of the drivers as well as his own at risk. He did so because he hated drivers seeing him in the mirrors.

The Daelim heir apparent apologised to the drivers in public, but he faces a probe as a civic group filed complaints against him with prosecutors.

Chaebol scions are not alone in causing a stir by assaulting employees. Owners of smaller companies also never cease to cause outrage with their abusive behaviour toward employees.

On Saturday, Mr Jung Woo Hyun, chairman of the company that runs the Mr Pizza chain, was questioned by police for his alleged assault of a security guard on April 2.

Mr Jung reportedly hit the guard in the neck twice when the latter came to apologise to him for locking the door of the building he worked at without knowing that the chairman was still inside. The building housed one of the group's newly opened pizza restaurants.

The unending series of incidents involving abusive chaebol offspring and chairmen of smaller companies suggests that the ethos of pariah capitalism still dominates the Korean business community.

Many Korean businessmen seem to believe that wealth brings them raw naked power. They also define their relationship with employees strictly in hierarchical terms, failing to realise that employees are human beings just like them that deserve respect and decent treatment.

Korean tycoons should assimilate democratic values and behave in a fashion that befits their position and wealth. They also need to try to hold themselves to a high ethical standard. A good starting point is to endeavour to treat their employees fairly and decently.

* The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.