Embattled FKI retools its name and mission

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Embattled FKI retools its name and mission

The Federation of Korean Industries, a lobbying group representing big business, announced a set of reform plans in response to heavy criticism that its ties to the government were too cozy.

The plans go as far as changing the name of the 50-year-old organization.

The lobbying group was swept up in the political scandal surrounding now ousted President Park Geun-hye and her shadowy confidante Choi Soon-sil after revelations that the lobbying group pressured its member companies to donate to nonprofits run by Choi, reportedly in return for political favors.

“We are very sorry for disappointing our member companies and the people with this shameful activity last year, and I would like to promise everyone that we will never be involved in political affairs or be used by such affairs from now on,” said Huh Chang-soo, head of the FKI and chairman of GS Group, during a press briefing at its headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Friday. “We will now remain as a channel where member companies can communicate and engage in private diplomacy. We will also downsize all unnecessary units in our organization.”

The federation said it will reduce the size and budget of its group by more than 40 percent and will get rid of its regular meeting of company presidents.

The organization said it will function more as a communication channel for local and foreign businesses rather than a political lobbying group.

“We will stop using the current name that we have been using for the past 50 years,” Huh said.

In Korean, the Federation of Korean Industries’ name literally translates to “organization of national businessman,” suggesting individual tycoons’ expansive role in nation-building.

The group will not change its official English name, but the Korean name will be changed to roughly “organization of Korean companies,” which is close to the English name.

The name will be finalized during a board meeting that has yet to be scheduled.

Instead of regular meetings of company presidents, the group will hold regular board meetings where management specialists from member companies, rather than their chief executives, will participate. Huh said this would help remove misunderstanding that “we are an organization where only group owners take key roles.”

The federation said its former research units will be transferred to the private think tank Korea Economic Research Institute and continue to research national economic issues like Korea’s low birthrate, utilization of new technology in industry and ways to improve business structures.

The embattled business group faces hurdles, as most of the country’s major conglomerates, including Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK and LG have all withdrawn their membership after they were criticized for their involvement in the presidential scandal last year.

BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]

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