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Industry leaders make anticorruption pledge

Mar 08,2018
From sixth from left in the front row: Ban Ki-Moon, former secretary general of UN, Lee Dong-kurn, president of the United Nations Global Compact Network Korea, Park Un-jong, chairperson of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, and Drago Kos, chair of the OECD Working Group on Bribery, pose with representatives that participated in the Fair Player Club anticorruption campaign run by the UNGC Network Korea after making a pledge for transparent and fair business management on Wednesday in the Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul. [UNITED NATIONS GLOBAL COMPACT NETWORK KOREA]

More than 200 Korean companies and business associations pledged to combat corruption on Wednesday during a ceremony to mark the end of a three-year initiative to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable and fair policies.

A total of 228 companies have been participating in the Fair Player Club project, which began in 2015 in an attempt to bring government, private companies and civic organizations together to establish a transparent and fair business environment in Korea.

The initiative, led by the United Nations Global Compact Network Korea, ended with the Fair Player Club Summit and Pledge Ceremony at the Grand Hyatt Seoul in Yongsan District, central Seoul. Participants promised to keep the anticorruption pledges that they made during the three-year program.

Among the earliest Korean companies and organizations to join the project were LG Electronics, KT, Lotte Shopping, KB Kookmin Bank and the National Pension Service.

The pledge ceremony comes at a time when fighting corruption and increasing transparency is more important than ever for Korean companies, following the ouster of former-President Park Geun-hye for making under the table deals with private companies, among other charges.

Most recently, public concern over corruption has resurfaced as Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, who was jailed for bribing the former president, walked out of prison last month with his charges suspended after court appeals. Lee’s early release rekindled doubts over the integrity of key decision makers and the overall business environment in the country.

Samsung did not take part in the initiative.

“Though Korea has caught up with ‘developed’ nations in terms of economic indices, Koreans remain skeptical as to whether the country deserves the title in the true sense of the word,” said Ban Ki-moon, former secretary general of the UN and honorary president of the Korean unit of UNGC. “I feel deeply embarrassed for the prevalent corrupt cases our country has witnessed.”

Korea currently ranks 11th in the world in terms of gross domestic product, but ranked 51st on the Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International last month. The international organization ranks countries based on surveying industry experts and businesspeople and shows the perceived level of public sector corruption in each country.

“We think cozy relations between political and business circles in Korea as well as lax punishment against power-backed corruption have largely impacted public perception,” said Park Un-jong, chairperson of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, a government body in charge of crafting policies against corruption such as the high-profile antigraft law in Korea, also known as the Kim Young-ran law.

Kim added that the commission plans to hold a regular meeting to discuss relevant policies and establish a five-year plan to combat corruption, which includes imposing more stringent punishments on companies that have been charged for corruption to create a truly transparent society.

“Korea has already experienced the worst [with the impeachment of Park] and I hope it turns out to be a foundation for a new beginning,” Ban added, citing the enactment of the Kim Young-ran law in 2016 as a positive step toward removing corruption.

The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission also said the law has positively impacted both the public and private sector as people now have a reason to reject unfair or illicit requests.

According to research from the Korea Institute of Public Administration last year, 92 percent of the public servants surveyed answered that the law helped combat corruption.

Another survey from the Korea Chamber of Commerce last year also reports that 74 percent of businesses said they work in an improved business environment after the implementation of the antigraft law.

Drago Kos, chair of the OECD Working Group on Bribery, emphasized the importance of giving positive motivation to prevent corruption rather than only tightening punitive measures, such as making effective compliance programs a precondition for entering public procurement processes.

He also added that Korea is not doing as bad as Korean citizens believe, and that it is a positive factor that the public as well as government representatives and key executives from the private sector are extremely sensitive to the issue.

The Fair Play Club project was organized by the Global Competitiveness Empowerment Forum and sponsored by the World Bank, Siemens Integrity Initiative as well as the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]