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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 December 5 - 11  > Settlement of wartime forced labor issue is possible
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2018 December 5 - 11 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Settlement of wartime forced labor issue is possible

December 11, 2018

Regarding the issue of Japan’s wartime industrial forced labor, both the Japanese government and the South Korean government recognize that Korean victims still have the right to claim compensation for damages. However, South Korean top court rulings last month against Japanese companies have provoked controversy in Japan. How can the forced labor issue be settled?

An out-of-court settlement is one possible solution to the issue. There are many examples in regard to the resolution on compensation disputes between Japanese firms and former Korean forced laborers.

In April 1999, a lawsuit filed in Japan by ex-Korean forced laborer Kim Kyung-seok against Japanese steel maker Nippon Kokan (NKK, currently JFE Steel) was settled out of court. In the lawsuit, the court of the first instance judged that Kim was not forcibly taken away to Nippon Kokan to work as a forced laborer, but accepted that he was used under harsh working conditions. In addition, the court acknowledged in detail that the plaintiff was tortured and physically abused by NKK employees and Japanese police officers after he was unilaterally designated as a mastermind of a strike action by Korean laborers that took place in April 1943.

In reaction to this court judgement, Nippon Kokan seriously considered Kim’s assertion that he was embroiled in the 1943 violent strike, got injured seriously, and suffered from adverse long-term effects. As its sincere response to Kim experiencing hardships for long periods of time, the company paid him 4.1 million yen. Lawyer Azusawa Kazuyuki, who is a member of Kim’s legal team, said, “This achievement was produced through efforts made by Kim himself and his supporters as well as through the company’s conscientious decision.”

When looking outside Japan, there are nations that have solved the issue of human rights violations associated with their past colonial rule and past wars of aggression.

In Germany, the government and private corporations in 2000 jointly established the Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future". This move was triggered by collective legal actions on the forced labor issue which were taken in the late 1990s against German companies accused of their involvement in forced labor under the Nazis during the war. The lawsuits were settled with an agreement under which the victims accepted the sincere apologies from the German government while the foundation paid a total of 4.4 billion euros in compensation to 1.67 million victims. Each victim received 420,000 yen on average at the exchange rate at that time.

Currently gaining force in the world is a movement to recognize problems created by colonialism and forced labor policies during the war as an issue of human rights violations and to increase efforts to offer compensation to individual victims. The Japanese government and Japanese businesses should listen to the victims and take a step toward a fair settlement of the forced labor issue.

Past relate articles:
> Korean top court orders Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay damages to wartime forced laborers [ November 30, 2018]
> Shii calls for cool-headed approach to Korean forced laborer issue [ November 2, 2018]
> Korean top court orders Japanese steelmaker to compensate ex-Korean forced laborers [October 31, 2018]
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