[Viewpoint] Standing up against the unjust

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[Viewpoint] Standing up against the unjust

‘People of Korea, I, Choi Soo-boo, have managed my company with a strong belief in consumer confidence for 46 years. The company is currently under unjust threats from a strange organization. I will fight against it to defend the principles of the free market economy.”

What would have happened to Kwang Dong Pharmaceutical, which was under intimidation from a civic group, if Choi Soo-boo, chairman of the company, appeared on television to make such remarks? The silent majority would have extended a helping hand to the company, and the strange civic group, alarmed by the shouts of the people, might have run away and hidden in a rat hole.

Korean people have a history of coming together to punish evil when they see something unjust. When the Dong-A Ilbo suffered from lack of advertisements due to political suppression in the 1970s, many citizens took out advertisements of encouragement. In 1987, Korean people indignantly stood up against the dictatorial government that threatened to limit political freedom ostensibly “to protect the constitution.” The silent majority has never failed to take action when it was for the rightful cause.

The surrender of Kwang Dong Pharmaceutical to the pressure from a civic group is a shocking incident in the history of our national spirit. A prominent company that boasts a 46-year history yielded to the threats of a strange organization. The company did nothing wrong. It simply selected a news outlet that has a large circulation and a good advertising infrastructure to carry out its ads. But the strange organization intimidated Kwang Dong with a threatened boycott, and the company raised a white flag after only a few hours.

The civic organization, which has grown in self-confidence, is now threatening one of the premier companies in Korea. Such a primitive act of intimidation is taking place in broad daylight in this amazing country that surprised the world with its track record of industrialization, democratization, economic growth and remarkable accomplishments in sports. This is foremost an issue related to the spirit of our community, before being a problem of capitalism or the market economy. It is a matter related to people’s pride. In this respect, Choi is greatly indebted to the people.

What should a community do when something like this, a boycott threat against Kwang Dong Pharmaceutical’s products, happens? First, the government should immediately investigate whether such an act constitutes blackmail or forceful obstruction of business. The political community and the society of intellectuals should censure such barbaric acts. Public opinion should criticize cowardly people who make such threats.

Most important is the company itself. Companies should fight against such pressure, trusting in the support of the silent majority. Sales could drop temporarily. However, consumers will be attracted to the company’s resolve after some time, and sales could actually increase in time. A company should have conviction in justice and reason.

Choi in the past has been introduced on television as a model for human victory. He only received a fourth-grade education, says he built up his business solely on the basis of consumer confidence and emphasized his “40 years of stubborn belief in consumer confidence” in a television advertisement. Many people remember his words. In his autobiography, “Business Management of Tenacity,” he says, “Opportunity comes to those who endure difficulties and hardships.”

Then why has he thrown in the towel in the face of hardship? He said: “I wanted to fight, even if it meant I would lose the company. However, directors said it would ‘have a grave effect on sales’ and appealed to me to accept their advice.” He said that “it was very disheartening when I wondered how to manage a business in such social circumstances.” He must have agonized over the survival of his company again and again. But he should have thought about it one more time. He should have had confidence in the silent majority.

The “anti-boycott” is a movement that aims to help companies suffering from unjust boycotts. In September 2005, a Danish newspaper printed satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. This led to murders and acts of terror in Muslim countries, and in January 2006, a large-scale boycott of Danish products was launched. Some Danish companies suffered daily losses of millions of dollars. With Danish companies facing a crisis, a “Buy Danish” campaign started in Europe. Web sites and blogs that supported the campaign sprang up and people carried around the Danish flag.

The Western film “High Noon” is about a sheriff who does not surrender to unjust threats. American people grew up watching such films. A 21st-century sheriff is a person who stands up against unjust pressure and defends the spirit of society.

Choi has missed his chance to become a sheriff.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin

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