Reckitt Benckiser CEO offers apology for Oxy

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Reckitt Benckiser CEO offers apology for Oxy

Reckitt Benckiser CEO Rakesh Kapoor apologized Thursday at the company’s headquarters in the outskirts of London to the Koreans who had been killed or sickened by the humidifier sterilizers produced by the British company’s Korean unit.

The move came after the sterilizer controversy became increasingly publicized across the globe and shareholders opposed a hefty salary package for the CEO.

Kapoor said that “[we are] personally very sorry and very much regret that our Oxy product caused harm to people in South Korea.”

A delegation including victims and their families waged protests in front of the parent company’s headquarters while its annual shareholders meeting was under way.

The delegation demanded stricter follow-up measures of the case, including the layoff of executives at U.K. headquarters and the company’s Korean manufacturer, Reckitt Benckiser Korea; more concrete compensation plans; an apology in front of the victims and relatives; and safety tests for a broad range of the company’s products.

The protests also included members of the global environmental nongovernmental organization Friends of the Earth and the head of the Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health, which has led the call for an official probe into the case.

Kapoor was scheduled to meet with the delegation at the company’s headquarters at 10 a.m. Friday. The outcome of the meeting had not been released as of press time.

The CEO faced another setback inside the meeting room as some of shareholders voiced disapproval of his hefty salary.

Eighteen percent of shareholders voted against Kapoor’s 23.2 million pound ($33.6 million) pay package, calling it excessive. It was the latest sign of growing investor discontent at exorbitant executive compensation.

The delegation also expressed anger over the CEO’s high salary.

“How would such an enormous pay be acceptable when a product his company made killed numerous children and left indelible wounds on the minds and bodies of others who managed to survive?” Kang Chang-ho, head of a Seoul-based association for families affected by the sterilizers, said Friday by phone. “Sure, you could argue it’s not unusual in a capitalist society, but even in a capitalist society, you should carry some conscience.”

According to two rounds of government-led investigations into the case - in July 2013 and April 2015 - 530 people were victimized by the products, including 146 deaths.

Meanwhile, the prosecution requested a warrant to arrest a professor at Seoul National University on Friday for allegedly receiving bribes from Reckitt Benckiser Korea to produce research guaranteeing the safety of the company’s Oxy sterilizers.

After prosecutors established a special investigation team early this year to look into the fatal products, the Oxy manufacturer submitted reports using the professor’s research to disprove government tests linking pulmonary illnesses and death to the inhalation of chemicals in the humidifier sterilizers.

BY PARK EUN-JEE, BLOOMBERG [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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