South Korea’s Top Court Rules Against Japanese Firms; Requisitioned-Worker Plaintiffs Must be Compensated

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The South Korean Supreme Court

SEOUL — South Korea’s top court on Thursday dismissed appeals by Nippon Steel Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. in a lawsuit filed by former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula and former members of the women volunteer labor corps.

A high court decision that ordered the companies to pay damages to each plaintiff was finalized.

This is the first time in about five years that the South Korean Supreme Court has given a ruling on a suit filed by South Korean people who were requisitioned to work in Japan from the Korean Peninsula during Japan’s colonial rule. In October 2018, Nippon Steel, then Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., was ordered to pay 100 million won per plaintiff and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was ordered to pay from 80 million won to 150 million won per plaintiff the following month.

In March this year, the South Korean government announced a plan to resolve the issue through a third-party compensation scheme, and relevant procedures are underway. A foundation under the umbrella of the government will pay the plaintiffs compensation equal to the amount that the Japanese companies have been ordered to pay.

The scheme is expected to be applied to the plaintiffs who won their cases Thursday.

Japan has taken the position that postwar compensation issues between the two countries have been resolved under the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation that was reached between Japan and South Korea in 1965, which stipulates that the issue has been “settled completely and finally.”

But a South Korean high court ruled that the agreement on property and claims did not apply to the plaintiffs. The South Korean Supreme Court decision on Thursday appears to be in line with that ruling.

There are at least 80 similar lawsuits pending, with more than 1,000 plaintiffs. More top court rulings against Japanese companies may follow.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said at a press conference Thursday the ruling was “extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable.” Hayashi said he had lodged a protest with the South Korean government.