Correct overseas business cultureA U.S. subsidiary of Hyundai Heavy Industries turns out to have been hit by a lawsuit on charges of racial discrimination. Although the company won the lawsuit brought on by a mid-level manager who was fired by the subsidiary in Atlanta, Georgia, the issues the local employee raised in regard to the local business culture of Korean companies cannot be ignored whatsoever.
According to the claims by the plaintiff, the head of the subsidiary tried to offend local employees with very inappropriate remarks such as, “Our workers are too old” or “My mission is to change the composition of our employees from Americans to young Koreans.” He allegedly even dismissed advice from friends and colleagues to restrain himself from making racially sensitive remarks.
Fortunately, the U.S. court didn’t accept the plaintiff’s racial discrimination charges. But if such instances really occurred in our overseas ventures, we should closely check if their localization strategies are working successfully. Unless they meet local standards, those attempts will only backfire. Their substandard practices will no doubt help propagate antagonism by local citizens toward Korean business culture.
We take special note of the fact that Georgia is a place where strong anti-Korean sentiments were ignited by the death of a female African American worker at a Korean auto parts factory. The company argued that her death was caused by a chronic disease she had suffered from. But local news media and politicians attributed her death to a harsh work environment and lack of attention paid to employees’ safety and health, not to mention an attempt to thwart unionization. In fact, our companies overseas have been increasingly under fire for their insistence on Korean-style working conditions and for their unwillingness to contribute to regional development, such as little, if any, donations to charity.
Moving manufacturing bases to foreign countries with relatively cheap labor is an irreversible tide. Given the reality that 80 percent of Samsung Electronics’ products and a half of Hyundai Motor’s cars are produced overseas, our companies with global stature cannot achieve prosperity without utilizing foreign manpower in the age of globalization.
If Korean companies are held accountable for their exclusive business cultures, as well as their racial and cultural prejudices, they cannot continue achieving success around the globe. It’s time to review such bad business practices and create more open-minded work environments that can embrace diverse cultures.