Court again orders Japanese firm to compensate forced labor victims

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug 11, 2017 - 18:30
Updated : Aug 11, 2017 - 18:42

A South Korean court on Friday ordered the Japanese firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay compensation to Korean victims of Japanese forced labor during World War II, in yet another win for the war victims.

The Gwangju District Court said that the wartime construction firm must pay 150 million won ($130,920) in compensation to Oh Cheol-seok, a family member of the late victim Oh Kil-ae, 120 million won to surviving victim Kim Jae-rim and 100 million won to two surviving victims Yang Young-soo and Shim Seon-ae.

They had demanded 150 million won from the Japanese firm, saying that they were forced to work without pay under appalling conditions at an aircraft manufacturing factory in Nagoya, Japan, after being deceived in 1944 on the false promise that they would be able to study and earn money in Japan. 

Kim Jae-rim (Yonhap)


“I thought I would die there after being taken to Japan without knowing anything. I didn’t know something good like this would happen to me after all these years,” said the elderly Kim, following the verdict. “Thank you to all the people who made efforts for us.”

It took three years from filing the suit to winning the case, which civic groups advocating forced workers say was a result of the company’s international foot dragging.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries issued an apology for the American and Chinese victims of forced labor, but denied its responsibility for Korean victims.

The ruling comes two days after the same court ruled in favor of surviving victim Kim Young-ok and Lee Kyung-ja, a family member of the deceased victim Choe Jeong-rye. The court ordered Mitsubishi to pay 120 million won to Kim and 32.5 million won to Lee.

The country’s district and high courts have ruled in favor of those forced to work for Japanese firms, following the top court’s historic ruling in 2012 which acknowledged forced workers’ individual rights to seek compensation despite the state-level treaty between Korean and Japan.

Kim Jae-rim (center) (Yonhap)


Japan maintains that all colonial-era issues, including postwar compensation claims, were settled with a 1965 Seoul-Tokyo treaty, under which Japan offered money and low-interest loans to Korea and the two countries normalized relations.

In 2009, Japan pushed for the UNSECO World Heritage listing of some Japanese wartime industrial sites that used forced labor from Korea and other Asian countries, saying they played a key role in the country’s industrialization. Korea strongly protested the move.

Eight victims filed for compensation against the Japanese government and Mitsubishi in Japan in 1999 with the help of a Japanese civic group, but Japan’s top court rejected the case in 2008.

Since 2000, a total of 14 wartime compensation suits have been filed against Japanese firms involved in the country’s wartime aggression in Korea, with four cases still pending at the nation’s top court.

Civic groups advocating for the victims are calling for swift rulings on the pending cases as most of the victims are in their 80s and suffering from frail health.

Though exact figures are not available, historians in Korea estimate at least 1.2 million Koreans were mobilized against their will in China, Japan and elsewhere, as forced laborers in mines, factories and construction sites under Japan’s colonial rule between 1910 and 1945. 

Japan also mobilized as many as 200,000 Asian women, mostly Koreans, as sex slaves for its troops during World War II.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation