South Korea court orders Japanese firm Nachi-Fujikoshi to pay for forced labour

Mr Lee Choon-shik (centre), a victim of forced labour by Japan during its colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, is surrounded by supporters and relatives outside the supreme court in Seoul, on Oct 30, 2018.
Mr Lee Choon-shik (centre), a victim of forced labour by Japan during its colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, is surrounded by supporters and relatives outside the supreme court in Seoul, on Oct 30, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - A Seoul court on Friday (Jan 18) dismissed a Japanese machinery maker's appeal against an order that it pay 17 South Korean women 100 million won (S$120,930) each for forced wartime labour, the latest in a series of rulings raising tensions between the neighbours.

South Korea and its former colonial power Japan are both United States allies who have to contend with nuclear-armed North Korea and a rising China.

But their relationship is soured by issues of past history, including Koreans forced to work at Japanese firms' factories during World War II, and a territorial row over Seoul-controlled islets also claimed by Japan.

South Korean courts have made a series of orders against Japanese firms, and President Moon Jae-in said earlier this month that Tokyo should take a "more humble" attitude to history.

The latest ruling involved 17 South Korean women made to work at Nachi-Fujikoshi's Toyama assembly lines - where it produced weapons parts - in 1944 and 1945.

The victims were "tricked" into forced labour in harsh conditions, the Seoul High Court said.

In 2014, a lower court ordered Nachi-Fujikoshi to pay the plaintiffs - who include both surviving former workers and family members of those who have died - 80 million won to 100 million won in unpaid wages and compensation for emotional distress.

 
 
 
 

The company - now a manufacturer of robots and other machine tools - appealed.

But the Seoul High Court upheld the original ruling on Friday, saying the award was not excessively high and that the plaintiffs had a right to seek compensation.

Japan says the victims' right to sue was extinguished by the 1965 deal that saw Tokyo and Seoul restore diplomatic ties and included a reparation package of about US$800 million in grants and cheap loans.

But South Korean courts have made a series of recent rulings holding private Japanese businesses responsible for forced labour, drawing Tokyo's ire, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denouncing such decisions as "impossible".

South Korea's top court in November ordered Japanese giant Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay 80 million to 150 million won to two separate groups of 11 people for forced wartime labour at its plants.

Another court earlier this month ordered the seizure of South Korean assets owned by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal in a similar case, prompting condemnation by Tokyo.