A battle over public opinion
The author is an industry 1 team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
If I were to sum up the atmosphere among the major employers’ groups opposing the so-called three corporate regulations — referring to the revisions to the commercial law, the fair trade law and the financial groups supervision law — I would say “resignation.” Their pain can be understood given the ruling Democratic Party’s (DP) majority of 174 seats and the opposition People Power Party’s (PPP) interim head Kim Jong-in’s support of the revisions.
On the employers’ part, the only power to put the brakes on the DP’s move is public opinion, but the public is not favorable to employers. The revision mandates that when a company selects the auditors of the board, at least one of them should be picked from outside. But average citizens would not regard the requirement as an infringement on management rights, as it is not directly related to their lives. I am convinced by an analysis that local companies would feel burdened because the ruling party got the upper hand in a battle for public opinion by portraying it as a war to achieve a “fairer economy.”
Employers have decided to respond jointly to block the revisions. The Korea Enterprises Federation (KEF) invited DP leader Lee Nak-yon on Oct. 6 and delivered its demands. The next day, four groups, including the Korea Federation of SMEs, got together and expressed opposition to the revisions. A source involved with one of the groups said they felt like they were doing what they could.
The power of the government and ruling party to promote the three revisions and make the opposition practically silent comes from anticorporate sentiment rather than the DP’s majority in the National Assembly. On Oct. 7, analysis provided at the KEF chairpeople’s meeting found that the regulations on businesses will become stricter if they do not resolve anticorporate sentiment.
To block the regulatory laws, companies need to win public opinion, and the key is combating antibusiness sentiment. But holding a breakfast banquet at a five-star hotel in downtown Seoul and claiming that companies are struggling won’t help change that sentiment. The hypocrisy of pretending to be overly modest also would backfire, but they didn’t have to be so insensitive.
In the end, this is going to be a long war. The business owners are focused on blocking the three anticorporate laws. And they have to defend against tougher regulations such as the introduction of class-action lawsuits. If they want to block them all, they need to improve their image. As most citizens are only interested in ways to make themselves and their communities better, they don’t care which side wins between the labor and the management.