Shameful work environmentThe remains of Kim Dong-sik, a courageous firefighter who fearlessly plunged into an inferno at a Coupang warehouse in Icheon, Gyeonggi, were found in the basement of the giant building. Though the exact reasons for the fire have not been found yet, an increasing number of customers of the e-commerce giant are pledging to quit their memberships on social media in sympathy for the death of Captain Kim, who was devoted to his job as a firefighter for the past 27 years. But more specifically, customers vented their outrage at the outdated business culture of the company that was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in March.
According to several witnesses on the day of the blaze, a manager repeatedly turned off a switch for sprinklers, saying they were malfunctioning. If the allegation is proven true, the disaster goes beyond neglecting safety measures as it translates into the management’s disrespect for human lives. As Coupang is known to have poor working environments, including in its warehouses across the country, the disaster may have been caused by inhumane working conditions. Many people have petitioned the Blue House to punish management of the retail giant after defining it as the “direct perpetrator” of the tragedy.
Testimonies by current and former employees are even more shocking. Coupang’s warehouses did not have the appropriate air conditioning systems. When workers complained of hyperthermia, managers allegedly advised them to ingest glucose. Safety guidelines were nonexistent from the start.
When employees at its Bucheon warehouse were collectively infected with the coronavirus in May, the company allowed workers with symptoms to continue working, which led to the shutdown of the warehouse for two weeks. Nevertheless, no improvement was made in working conditions at that facility, according to employees. As a result, as many as nine workers died while working last year alone.
After its workplace suffered many Covid-19 cases in 2021, the Coupang management did not officially apologize for the damage the company inflicted on society. Executives of the company only feigned an apology by posting a Q&A on its homepage three days after Gyeonggi Province authorities enforced a shutdown. It showed the same reaction this time. Resigning as chairman of the board shortly after the conflagration, its founder Kim Bum-seok said he will focus on global markets instead of dealing with the disaster.
The company said Kim’s stepping down was planned earlier, but such a decision is not appropriate in terms of timing. He should have vowed to resolve the facts behind the disaster first and come up with preventative measures to keep such accidents from happening again. No matter what kind of innovative services Coupang comes up with in the future, it cannot survive without the public’s trust. We urge Coupang to reestablish a human-centered work environment befitting its global reputation before it’s too late.