Seoul court rejects slave labor claim against Japanese firms

Of note:

South Korean court on Monday rejected a claim by dozens of World War II-era Korean factory workers and their relatives who sought compensation from 16 Japanese companies for their slave labor during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.

The decision by the Seoul Central District Court appeared to run against landmark Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers.

It largely aligns with the position maintained by the Japanese government, which insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the two nations that was accompanied by hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.

A total of 85 plaintiffs had sought a combined 8.6 billion won ($7.7 million) in damages from 16 Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel, Nissan Chemical and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The court dismissed their civil lawsuit after concluding the 1965 treaty doesn’t allow South Korean citizens to pursue legal action against the Japanese government or citizens over wartime grievances. Accepting the plaintiffs’ claim would violate international legal principles that countries cannot use domestic law as justification for failures to perform a treaty, the court said.

Some plaintiffs told reporters outside the court they planned to appeal. An emotional Lim Chul-ho, 85, the son of a deceased forced laborer, said the court made a “pathetic” decision that should have never happened.

“Are they really South Korean judges? Is this really a South Korean court?” he asked. “We don’t need a country or government that doesn’t protect its own people.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would affect diplomacy between the estranged U.S. allies, which have faced pressure from the Biden administration to repair relations that sank to postwar lows during the Trump years over history and trade disputes.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it respects the decisions by domestic courts and is willing to engage in talks with Tokyo to find “rational” solutions that can satisfy both governments and the wartime victims.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tokyo was carefully watching the developments in South Korea and hoping that Seoul would take a responsible action to improve ties. He said bilateral relations were still in a “severe condition” because of issues related to Korean forced laborers and wartime sex slaves.

“We believe it is important for South Korea to act responsibly to resolve the outstanding problems between the two countries and we will be watching concrete proposals by the South Korean side aimed at resolving the problems,” Kato said at a news briefing.

The plaintiffs had said the workers endured harsh conditions that caused “extreme” mental and physical pain that prevented them from resuming normal lives after they returned home at the end of the war.

The Seoul court said in its ruling that it had to consider that forcing Japanese companies to compensate the victims would cause significant “adverse reactions” for South Korea internationally.

“A forcible execution (of compensation) would violate the large constitutional principles of ensuring the safety of the country and maintaining order, and would constitute an abuse of power,” the court said, describing its ruling as an “inevitable” decision.

In April, the court issued a similar ruling on a claim by Korean victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery and their relatives, another sticking point in bilateral relations. In that ruling, the court denied their claim for compensation from Japan’s government, citing diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant countries immunity from the jurisdiction of foreign courts.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been strained since South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers. Those rulings led to further tensions over trade when Japan placed export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019.

Seoul accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade and threatened to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo that was a major symbol of their three-way security cooperation with Washington. South Korea eventually backed off and continued the deal after being pressured by the Trump administration, which until then seemed content to let its allies escalate their feud in public.

South Korea’s tone on Japan has softened since the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has been stepping up efforts to bolster three-way cooperation among the countries that declined under Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, to coordinate action in the face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a nationally televised speech in March said his government was eager to build “future-oriented” ties with Japan and that the countries should not allow their wartime past to hold them back.

Source: Seoul court rejects slave labor claim against Japanese firms

Glavin: Don’t show up at Black Lives Matter rallies in clothes made by slaves

While much of Glavin’s commentary is appropriate, he overstates IMO the contrast between the USA and Canada, given that all the big companies he lists as being complicit, have a large American retail presence with comparable sourcing issues. Not too mention Disney’s Mulan shot in Xinjiang.

So while American laws may be better, is the reality?

It’s positively uplifting, you could say, that owing to the protests and riots and presidential election-year shouting about systemic racism and police violence in the United States, quite a few Canadians seem to have developed an acutely attentive awareness of the history of Black slavery in America and its enduring legacy. Perhaps not so heartwarming is that the throngs of earnest protesters turning out for all those Black Lives Matter rallies across Canada are wearing clothes made by slaves.

That Canadians of even the most advanced progressive sophistication give every appearance of being completely oblivious to this ugly irony is even less uplifting. An entire summer of American-style protests about the wickedness of racism and capitalism has come and gone without any obvious notice that Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Adidas, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Nike, UNIQLO, H&M, Lacoste and quite a few other globe-spanning corporations are demonstrably implicated in slavery, child labour, and forced-labour production in prisons and detention centres and sweatshops from Dhaka to Urumqi.

In July, the International Confederation of Trade Unions joined with 180 human rights and Uyghur advocacy organizations to launch an ambitious campaign to bring all this to light and to bring forced Uyghur labour to an end. It’s hard to say whether the campaign has gained much traction. Perhaps they should pull down some statues.

At least the U.S. Congress has been doing its bit. The bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would build on existing U.S. prohibitions on the import of slave-made goods, and the proposed Slave-Free Business Certification Act is an even tougher law, promising penalties of up to $500 million.

Canadians, however – for all our boasts about being unstained by the original American sin of slavery – have long been global laggards in the cause of slavery’s abolition. Unlike the United States, Britain, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Norway and so on, Canada has no specific legislation aimed at banning the import of goods produced by forced labour. World Vision Canada reckons that forced labour or child labour is implicated in $34 billion in products imported into Canada annually.

It is doubly embarrassing – maybe this is why it’s been the subject of nearly no public notice at all – that it’s taking the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the deal that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement, to drag Canada into the world’s anti-slavery camp. Effective July 1, USMCA requires Canada to amend the Customs tariff laws to impose prohibitions on the importation of goods produced wholly or in part by forced labour.The USMCA’s forced-labour provisions should be expected to put wind in the sails of an effort by Liberal MP John McKay and Quebec Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne that has been marooned in a procedural tidepool of committee hearings and on-again, off-again consultations for two years. Their proposed law, the Modern Slavery Act, would force corporations to show that their supply chains are free of forced labour, on pain of fines of up to $250,000.

Because the Americans were already in compliance with the UMSCA’s forced-labour provisions, on July 1 they hit the ground running. U.S. law already allows for the seizure of goods and criminal charges for violators, and just this week, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency was preparing to block imports of cotton from Xinjiang, where almost all of China’s cotton fields are located. One in five garments worldwide contains cotton from Xinjiang.

The U.S. import bans are expected to also include tomato products and human hair, and computer parts from Hefei Bitland Information Technology. Products from the Lop County Industrial Park and Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center are headed for banned list, following the July 1 seizure of several tons of hair extensions shipped to the U.S. believed to have been “harvested” from Uyghur women by the Lop County Meixin Hair Products Company. The U.S. State Department has also warned Walmart, Amazon and the Apple corporation that they face severe legal risks over their supply chains associated with Xinjiang.

According to the Walk Free Foundation’s 2018 Global Slavery Index, Canada is vulnerable to slave-labour contamination in supply chains involving nearly $10 billion worth of laptop computers and mobile phones annually imported from China and Malaysia, and $6 billion worth of apparel imports. Several other supply chains are suspect, including gold from Peru and sugarcane from Brazil.

While Canada has been noticeably absent in the global struggle against slavery, there is one Canadian bright spot, involving a particularly grotesque Canadian embarrassment.

The bright spot: Last March, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that three Eritrean refugees could sue the Vancouver-based mining company Nevsun Resources for engaging in slavery and committing crimes against humanity at the notorious Bisha gold, copper and zinc mine in Eritrea, co-owned by Nevsun and the Eritrean dictatorship. The three plaintiffs in the case say they were conscripted into the military and forced to work at the mine for 11, 14 and 17 years respectively, and that they were tortured and made to put in 12-hour days, sometimes seven days a week.

The embarrassment: Four years ago, when a UN commission of inquiry confirmed reports of abuse at the mine so grotesque as to amount to crimes against humanity, it turned out that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board owned 1.5 million shares of Bevsun Resources. In 2018, Nevsun’s shareholders agreed to sell the company for $1.86 billion to China’s Zijin Mining Group.

Perhaps Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should take a knee.

Source: Glavin: Don’t show up at Black Lives Matter rallies in clothes made by slaves