A political hurdle for Chey

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A political hurdle for Chey

The author is an industry 1 team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won could be the next head of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Korcham), the biggest business group in Korea. He is taking time to accept the position. Choi will likely succeed current Chairman Park Yong-maan, whose term ends in March 2021. As it is custom to elect the chairman through designation, external and internal sources at Korcham say it’s up to Chey’s decision.

Chey is considered the most likely candidate because of the symbolic meaning of SK, the third-largest business group in Korea. The Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), which used to be led by the top four conglomerates, speaks up for business circles, but as they withdrew from FKI, its status has noticeably weakened. Some businesses think that a strong focal point is needed to block the government and ruling party’s movement to promote corporate regulatory laws.

Korcham has about 180,000 members. Some management insiders predict that once Choi is chosen, his ESG philosophy of environmental, social and corporate governance could expand and change the negative image of large corporations. But it is also the chairman’s duty to represent medium-sized and small businesses, which make up 98 percent of the members. To these companies, ESG could be nothing more than a luxury for the upper echelons in the industry.

In the end, the chairman has to speak up to oppose mandatory employment insurance for special workers, such as golf caddies and deliverymen, and the serious disaster punishment act, which punishes employers for industrial disasters. Chey knows about this already.

Korcham’s role is to pursue the joint interest of employers and converge on their opinions to make proposals to the government. But the problem is whether the employers, including Chey, agree to him raising his voice. Though the government and ruling party’s approval ratings have fallen, they still have the power to pressure companies to clean up what they call deep-rooted evil practices.

When Chey’s late father Chey Jong-hyon was the chairman of the FKI, SK was audited by the government after he demanded an interest rate cut and deregulations from the Kim Yong-sam administration.

His son can refuse the position at Korcham for another reason. But it is unfortunate if he avoids it in order not to get on the wrong side of the political powers that be. If the government is willing, it won’t take too long to lessen industry worries.
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