COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Items 10 and 16 of the provisional agenda
ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
REPORT OF THE SUB-COMMISSION ON THE PROMOTION AND PROTECTION
OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Responsibilities of transnational corporations with regard to human rights:
Overseas corporations of the Republic of Korea
1. We have noted with great interest the debates at the United Nations, particularly at the Sub-
Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, on the question of the
responsibilities of transnational corporations with regard to human rights. We look forward to
finding that the relevant issues will be well identified in the report of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights, which is to be prepared further to paragraph (b) of Commission on Human
Rights decision 2004/116. Herewith we want to highlight the issue of human rights of laborers
employed by the Korean corporations operating in foreign countries.
2. The overseas investments of Korean corporations commenced in 1968, and have sharply
increased since the 1990s. For thirty-five years, from 1968 to 2003, the number of cases of
overseas investments was 18,068 in total, and the capital invested amounted to 42.2 billion
dollars into 150 countries. The Korean corporations have invested mostly in the Asian market,
which accounts for 67% of their overseas investments and 40% of the capital invested.
3. Among others, the manufacturing industry including the textile occupies the greatest part of
the overseas investments of Korean corporations, which accounts for 62% of total investments
and 53.2% of the capital invested. Since the middle of the 1980s, overseas investments for the
manufacturing industry have rapidly increased in order for the corporations to secure a
competitive price by making use of cheap labor in foreign locations.
4. As we have seen, many Korean enterprises, working as transnational corporations, have been
investing in labor-intensive areas and utilizing local labor forces in the invested country.
Accordingly, there came a need to examine the impact of these corporations over the invested
country and the local laborers, and civic groups in and outside Korea have worked on the reports
based on the field investigation focusing on whether the overseas corporations of the Republic of
Korea operate in line with the national laws and the international labor standards.
5. The investigations revealed that a number of Korean corporations operating in foreign
countries ignore local cultures and do not respect generally recognized human rights and labor
standards; local laborers are deprived of freedom of association and often subjected to back
wages, forced overtime work or sexual harassment. It was also found that local laborers are
confronted with a threat of factory closure or transfer, or other forms of unemployment when
they urge the employers to observe the relevant international labor standards.
6. The transgressions of this kind are not only limited to the cases of overseas Korean
corporations. Under the banner of neo-liberalism, business actors such as transnational
corporations have become more powerful than ever, in reverse, with growing dependence on
foreign capital it makes harder for a State to regulate transnational corporations and the flow of
capital. In this regard, we stress again that full efforts and immediate actions should be done by
international society, for instance, at the level of the United Nations in order to address a myriad
of human rights violations committed by transnational corporations, and that there should be
guidelines, norms or regulations, which are universally recognized, so that transnational
corporations and related business enterprises comply with international human rights law
including international labor standards.
7. The responsibility of each government is also important above all things. In the Republic of
Korea, the government scarcely grasps the current working conditions of local laborers
employed by the overseas Korean corporations albeit with the fact that there have been around
180,0001 local laborers in overseas locations of the Korean corporations. Meanwhile, in 2001,
the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF), headquartered in
Brussels, indicted a Korean company Choi & Shin in Guatemala for a grave violation of the
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The Korean government, however, has never
been made clear what measures were taken to redress this case.
8. If there are no administrative or legal remedies available in the concerned country against the
transnational corporations over the human rights violations, their home country should hold them
legally responsible. That is, the Korean government should supervise the practices and activities
of the Korean corporations operating in other countries, and make sure that those corporations
abide by the relevant standards with respect to human rights, including labor rights and the
environment. In this regard, we urge that each government, including the Republic of Korea,
should recognize and effectively implement the principles set forth in the Norms on the
responsibilities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human
rights, which was approved in August 2003 by the Sub-Commission, and provide appropriate
awareness-raising programs for the employers of transnational corporations on the Norms and
other relevant local or international human rights laws.
9. Lastly we want to draw the attention of the Commission to the situation that there exist many
laws and practices adversely affecting the rights of laborers working in the Export Free Zones
which are designed mostly in developing countries to give an investment incentive to
transnational corporations. In these circumstances, the human rights violations in the Export Free
Zones are more or less permitted and abetted. However, there should be no exception in terms of
protecting and promoting human rights which are inalienable. The laws and regulations over the
Export Free Zones should be in accordance with international human rights standards.
10. The international standards on the responsibilities of transnational corporations with regard
to human rights, still need to be strengthened in terms of implementation as well as standardsetting.
Transnational corporations tend to disturb the continued efforts of international society to
monitor or curb the adverse impact of transnational corporations on human rights, and some host
countries are reluctant to involve in the transnational corporation’s human rights violations. In
this regard, we hope that the Commission will take further active initiatives in response to the
human rights violations of transnational corporations. And we recommend that the Commission
annually request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to compile and formally submit a
report on the result of substantial investigations over the cases of human rights violations by
1 The number is estimated assuming that on the average ten laborers were employed per one case of rseas