On Aug. 25, Lee Jae-yong, the acting chairman of Samsung, the grandson of the company’s founder, was sentenced to five years in prison for multiple crimes including embezzlement and bribery.
In a country where chaebol companies such as Samsung, Lotte and Hyundai dominate not only the economic arena but the political field as well, Lee’s sentence as a man of such power is a rare one.
A chaebol is a South Korean business conglomerate, typically family-owned. In Korea, these multinational businesses monopolize the entire Korean economy, as the five biggest chaebols - Samsung, Hyundai, SK Group, LG Corporation and Lotte - dominate half of the country’s stock index.
Though these companies are usually held accountable for the “miraculous” economic success of post-war South Korea, their system is not apt for the growth needed in Korea in the 21st century.
In recent years, many Koreans, especially millenials are critical of the cozy relationship between the government and these companies. However, the company’s prospects are far from dwindling.
Despite media criticism and public awareness of the habitual tax fraud and bribery, public misconduct of the chaebol families, the vast majority of Koreans still strive for “success,” which has largely become defined by these companies. The corruptions of the chaebol families do not alter the fact that hundreds of thousands of young Koreans desperately fight for a place in the company cubicles. The long imbedded reputation of chaebols, as stable and undestructible companies keep job seekers rolling in, even as the weakening Korean economy has forced the corporations to reduce their hiring.
The startling hypocricy of the Korean public regarding chaebols is in their willingness to contribute, despite their harsh criticism. Within a close group of friends, Koreans will mock Samsung employees of their inhumane working circumstances, while studying for the entrance exams to Samsung electronics.
If the Korean people sincerely believe that the chaebol system and the culture that it breeds has no place in the future of Korea, then one must have the courage to step out of the familiarity of these giant corporations and venture outwards. Think twice before you apply for jobs at SK telecom or Hyundai motors, over which your relatives will jealously laugh at during New Years. Reconsider your purchase at E-Land Group retails. Every individual can contribute to downsizing the chaebols influence in this country.
Change is anticipated, as President Moon Jae-in pledged to take on the chaebols manifested in the economic and political scene. However, at the end of the day, it is up to us, as the driving forces of this country to make or break Korean chaebols.