[VIEWPOINT]Enforced social responsibilityAnti-corporate sentiment is not found only in South Korea. Naomi Klein, a Canadian author who plays a leading role in provoking anti-corporate sentiment, wrote that the struggle between the masses and the entrepreneur would be the decisive duel of the 21st century and that free democracy would come to an end if the entrepreneur won the duel.
Noreena Hertz of Cambridge University also warned in her book, “The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy,” that we will soon be living in a world where business becomes predominant, market precedes the law and elections become stories of the past.
These are warnings that the world will become a place where multinational corporations that wield limitless power will replace governments elected by the people through a democratic procedure.
A British columnist criticized Prime Minister Tony Blair in September 2001, saying that the prime minister “stole the power from the democratically elected government and gave it to big businesses.”
Judging from these examples, one may get an impression that business corporations exercise more power than a government, and indeed, a not small number of people think the power of businesses is stronger than that of governments.
In South Korea, too, there are people who believe the same. In August last year, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy published a report titled, “We Talk about Samsung, an Unchecked Power.”
In the report, the civic group claimed it had confirmed that Samsung Group’s enormous power is generated from its network of human resources.
That is, by absorbing talented people from all walks of life into the group, Samsung tries “to make impossible things possible.” The report’s logic seems to draw sympathy from a considerable number of people.
Is this actually the case? Are businesses an omnipotent group that have a free hand with everything? The reality seems to be a little different to that. At least in South Korea, business corporations are not free from the influence of the government. Nevertheless, the reason the logic of the report sounds persuasive is because the importance of the business community grows as time goes by.
Then, to what extent should business corporations be responsible to society?
It is already out of date to say that business corporations fulfill their duties if they create profits and pay dividends to their shareholders.
If business corporations avoid contributing to the healthy development of society, they cannot promote their own development.
Under the background of such logic, the issue of the so-called social responsibility of businesses is raised.
However, we worry because the reality in South Korea has gone beyond that level.
Recently, Samsung Group announced that it would donate 800 billion won ($860 million) and Hyundai Group said it would pay 1 trillion won, both as funds for social contribution.
However, the reaction in general was rather cold.
Although the two business giants said they would donate large amounts for the healthy development of our society, people didn’t react positively.
It seems that people think that the groups, Samsung and Hyundai, are trying to gloss over past wrongdoings with that money.
An even bigger problem is the social atmosphere that induced the two conglomerates to decide to make such social contributions.
Many big business owners have expressed worry over how much of a social contribution they should make under the present social atmosphere. And many people deplore the reality in which big businesses are forced to donate money for the solution of social polarization.
Before businesses can take the lead in fulfilling their social responsibility, the government and the political community have forced them to take social responsibility.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration may say that the reaction of the business community is out of misunderstanding.
It may also ask when the government forced businesses to fulfill a social responsibility.
However, regardless of the sincerity of the Roh administration, most business corporations feel that they are forced to take social responsibility.
It is desirable that businesses come forward to take their social responsibility.
But it is not desirable that businesses have to engage in such activities not for the purpose of strengthening their brand images or weakening antipathy to themselves, but to avoid the enmity of the government and politicians.
Such a social responsibility will not last long.
* The writer is the business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Se-jung