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Japanese steel firm refuses to meet South Korean lawyers on forced labor case


Lawyers for South Korean victims of Japan’s forced labor speak to reporters before heading to the main office of Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. (NSSM) in Tokyo on Nov. 12, 2018. The lawyers were turned away by the firm, denied meeting with company officials to discuss the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling in October ordering NSSM to compensate South Koreans who were mobilized for labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. 

The Japanese steel firm, ordered by a South Korean court to compensate South Korean workers for forced labor, refused to meet South Korea lawyers on Monday.

Two lawyers and civic activists visited the headquarters of Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. in Tokyo to deliver a letter that requests the company to pay for forced labor and unpaid wages to four South Korean plaintiffs, according to Yonhap News.

However, the company refused to meet them and didn’t allow them to enter beyond the reception.

A security official greeted them instead and read a note from Nippon Steel.

“We can’t accept the South Korean court order. We regret to see the ruling. We will deal with it according to diplomatic situations (between Japan and South Korea),” he said.

Lawyer Lim Jae-seong said he came to deliver voices of four South Korean plaintiffs.

“The hard labor and sacrifice by four plaintiffs must have contributed to the company to build the headquarters like this. They should at least come down and receive the letter,’ he told reporters.

Lim said the South Korean legal team will file for a process to seize any asset owned by Nippon Steel in South Korea. Nippon Steel owns a 30 percent stake in the joint venture, which it established with South Korea steelmaker POSCO, according to Yonhap News.

South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 30 that Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. should pay more than $87,000 (100 million won) to four South Koreans for forced labor and unpaid wages.

The ruling concluded a long-running lawsuit filed by four South Koreans in 2005. Only one of them, 94-year-old Lee Chun-shik, survived to see the court’s decision on Oct. 30. Lee said he and his colleagues were forced to work at a Japanese steel factory from 1941 to 1943 during the 1940-45 Japanese colonial rule of Korea.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga offered no comments on the Japanese government’s position regarding the South Korean lawyers’ visit and request for compensation to the steel firm on Monday.

“We are aware of the issue, but there’s nothing to comment,” said Suga, in a press briefing on Monday.


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