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South Korea expected to show concrete leadership on business and human rights, says UN expert group

Korean version

SEOUL (1 June 2016) – The Republic of Korea must show leadership and move forward on its stated intention to improve its record on business and human rights issues, said a delegation of the United Nations Working Group on business and human rights today, at the end of its first official visit* to the country.

“The Republic of Korea is home to some of the world’s largest companies and is in a prime position to lead on this topic in the region and the world. Having achieved rapid economic growth, the country now needs to focus on human rights safeguards in relation to the activities of its companies operating at home and abroad,” said human rights expert Dante Pesce, who currently heads the Working Group.

“State-owned enterprises, small and medium-sized enterprises, and large conglomerates all need to engage in this effort. With political will, State-owned and private enterprises can drive change by using their leverage and engaging with their supply chains,” he stressed. “The Government must show them the way.”

The experts examined the steps taken by the Government and companies operating in South Korea to implement their respective human rights duties and responsibilities as set out in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They found a mixed picture with a general willingness to improve and learn from international best practice, but few examples of leading conduct in practice.

“The civil society organizations, trade unions and victims we have heard from have given us a vivid picture of some of the current issues,” said Michael Addo, the other member of the Working Group delegation.

In particular, the Working Group expressed concern about reports of high levels of industrial accidents; insufficient health and safety precautions in the workplace; difficulties in accessing remedy for victims at home and abroad; the vulnerable situation of migrant and temporary workers; and discrimination against women as reflected in an obvious gender imbalance in the senior leadership of the companies they visited.

“We welcome the National Human Rights Commission’s recommendation that the country should undertake a national action plan on business and human rights. We hope this process will promote much needed multi-stakeholder dialogue with a view to resolving some of the difficult situations we have encountered,” Mr. Addo added. 

During their visit, the experts met with officials from Government ministries, public institutions, local authorities, the private sector, State-owned enterprises, the National Human Rights Commission, civil society organisations, and victims and their families.

The Working Group’s final report, including findings and key recommendations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2017.

(*) Check the Working Group’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20038&LangID=E


The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its current members are: Mr. Michael Addo, Mr. Surya Deva, Mr. Dante Pesce (current Chairperson), and Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga (current vice chair). The appointment of the fifth member of the Working Group will be made by the Human Rights Council in June 2016. Learn more, log on to: www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent human rights monitoring mechanisms. The Working Groups report to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly.  Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. The experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.     

Read the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/Tools.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Republic of Korea: www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/KRIndex.aspx

For additional information and media requests please contact:
In Seoul (during the visit): Ulrik Halsteen or Natasha Andrews +41 79 109 6872 / wg-business@ohchr.org
In Geneva before and after the visit: Ulrik Halsteen or Natasha Andrews +41 22 917 9323/ 9269 / wg-business@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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