Boycotting Lotte Only Hurts Korean Jobs

      August 17, 2015 12:29

      There are worrying moves afoot to denounce the Lotte Group as a Japanese interloper and boycott its products and services here. A patriotic group held a press conference in front of Lotte Department Store in downtown Seoul last week with protesters holding up placards with the rising-sun flag and Lotte's logo, blasting the business group that is mired in a bitter family feud over management control.

      Early this month, another civic group launched a boycott of Lotte products claiming the conglomerate is only pretending to be a Korean business.

      The family feud put the spotlight on the fact that the conglomerate is controlled by a complicated network of Japanese holding companies. The former head of the conglomerate's Japanese operations, Shin Dong-joo, only gave media interviews in Japanese, while his younger brother Shin Dong-bin, now chairman of Lotte's Korean operations, speaks with a distinct Japanese accent.

      But it no longer makes much sense to argue whether a company is Korean or foreign. What is more important is to consider how much it contributes to the Korean economy and society. If a business creates jobs here and pays taxes, it should be welcomed with open arms regardless of its nationality. And the Lotte Group has 81 subsidiaries and employs 130,000 workers here, rising to 350,000 jobs including franchise operations.

      Lotte paid around W800 billion (US$1=W1,117) in corporate taxes last year.

      Sentiment against foreign investors surged after U.S. hedge-fund manager Elliott Associates protested against a merger between Samsung Construction and Trade and Cheil Industries last month. Local media even accused the U.S. hedge fund of being a greedy Jewish conspiracy. The column caught the attention of an Israeli newspaper and the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial accusing Korea of anti-Semitism, and the incident sorely dented Samsung's corporate image.

      Korea cannot afford a xenophobic image, which could end up persuading foreign investors to park their money elsewhere.

      Boycotting Lotte because it is based in Japan could end up costing 350,000 jobs here, and that would hurt only Korea. The family feud should be settled by Lotte shareholders and management. It must not be allowed to fuel stone-age xenophobia here.

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