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(News Focus) Arrogant behavior of business owners sparks public uproar, call to boycott

All News 14:03 April 06, 2016

By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- Some South Korean business owners have been again placed under the watchful eyes of the public following recent incidents that showed their high-handed behavior and inhumane treatment of their employees.

What began as criticism over how they apparently view themselves, however, has now led to suspicions that they might also treat or think of their customers with classist views, prompting calls to boycott their products.

High-handed behavior of the rich and powerful has always been a subject of controversy, if not hatred, in the country that is often considered one of the most class-conscious, given its long history of strict hierarchy.

The local population's anger toward anyone who behaves as if he or she belongs to an higher social class and treats others as those from a lower class was highlighted about a year ago when Cho Hyun-ah, then vice chairwoman of Korean Air, ordered a flight attendant to deplane in an incident famously known as the "nut-rage case."

Cho, a daughter of Korean Air founder and chairman Cho Yang-ho, has since quit all her posts, and is serving a suspended jail term after actually serving about six months of her 10-month sentence in prison.

Many believe what drove Cho and her 67-year-old father to make repeated public apologies and the local court to find her guilty of violating airline safety regulations was the widespread public anger.

The country again witnessed many joining forces and demanding justice this week when a 68-year-old businessman was reported to have slapped a 58-year-old guard for locking the main gate of a building while he was still inside.

Jung Woo-hyun, chairman of MPK Group which runs the nation's leading pizza franchise Mr. Pizza, currently faces police questioning on suspicions of violence.

Public anger, however, has been growing steadily since the initial report of the incident as the aged guard claimed Jung has not even come to apologize personally, instead sending several company officials to do the job for him while posting an apology directly to the angry public.

Such outrage has apparently forced the police to consider questioning the business tycoon on suspicions of assault, which, unlike a violence charge, will lead to a formal indictment regardless of whether the suspect reaches a settlement with the victim.

Public anger did not stop at Jung or at demanding simple legal accountability. They want social consequences as well.

Many are posting online appeals to boycott all products of MPK Group. They claim Jung's behavior must have stemmed from his belief that he is better than others.

"These are worshippers of gold who firmly believe that money gives them power to do anything they want. These are people who treat all others as their slaves," an online user named Lee Jeong-pyo wrote in an online post, urging people to boycott MPK pizza chains.

The very pizza chain owners under MPK Group are backing up the accusation, suggesting the very group itself also behaves and operates in an exploitive way.

In a protest rally held March 15, franchise owners of the group accused the company of overcharging its supplies to chain stores, claiming that cheese supplied by the group and its contracted suppliers was at least 30 percent more expensive than the market price.

They also claimed one of two contracted cheese suppliers was run by Jung's relatives, apparently offering a reason for the high price.

In a separate case, Lee Hae-wook, vice chairman of engineering and construction giant Daelim Industrial, also came under public criticism for reportedly assaulting and abusing his personal drivers.

Lee is accused of ordering his drivers not to check the side-view mirrors on vehicles and hitting their heads from behind if they have trouble driving.

The 48-year-old businessman and a grandson of the company founder has repeatedly apologized for the incident, also promising to pay due compensation to those who have suffered.

Still, a civic organization has filed a formal complaint with the prosecution Tuesday against Jung and Lee.

"We decided to file a complaint as they have deprived people of their basic rights and disdained them while also undermining their dignity and honor," an organization official said.

In late 2015, Kim Man-sik, honorary chairman of Monggo Foods Co., a soy sauce maker based in Changwon, southern South Korea, quit his company post and issued a public apology after reports surfaced that he had habitually assaulted and abused his driver. The labor ministry later found the reports true through a special investigation.


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