A recent survey by South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor found that over half of employees at Naver [035420:KS], the country’s leading internet giant, had been bullied at work at least once in the past six months, reported The Korea Herald on July 28. In addition, among the 1,982 respondents out of 4,028 surveyed employees, more than 10% said they suffered workplace bullying at least once per week. The ministry consequently demanded Naver to improve its workplace culture and planned to fine the company in accordance with labor legislation. In response, the company acknowledged the shortcomings within its governance but maintained that it would provide an explanation for the bullying incidents.
The labor ministry’s survey followed the suicide of a Naver employee this May. An investigation of the victim revealed that he had experienced verbal and physical abuse from an executive as well as overwork for almost two years. The executive was later fired and the company’s COO Choi In-hyuk also resigned in light of multiple colleagues’ testimony. Although Naver’s leadership apologized for the incident and claimed that it would launch a task force to address the company’s governance structure, Naver’s labor union still criticized the leadership for defending Choi and demanded a harder stance from shareholders. As of March, the company’s two biggest shareholders were South Korea’s National Pension Service (NPS) and BlackRock [BLK:US], respectively holding about 10% and 5% of the company’s shares. Both have pledged to integrate ESG into their investment decisions, yet the two have not disclosed any changes in their stakes.
Workplace bullying has been a prolonged issue rooted in South Korea’s society, as indicated by surveys as early as a decade ago. In 2012, a survey with 376 respondents found that nearly three-fourths of South Korean workers had experienced psychological bullying in the workplace. More importantly, about 85% of the bullied workers chose to tolerate the situation, among which 61% considered bullying as part of the organization’s culture. Another survey conducted in 2018 suggested that three out of ten South Korean workers suffered from constant abuse by colleagues or superiors. To address the issue, in 2019, the South Korean government amended the Labor Standards Act and Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act, which clarified employers’ obligations to prevent bullying and imposed penalties on breach of the rules. However, workplace bullying continued to be widespread and reporting of bullying remained difficult, since the amendments failed to cover cronyism and vengeful behaviors in the workplace.