The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an appellate court ruling that ordered a Japanese company to compensate the family of a late wartime labor forced victim.
The top court ordered Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel to pay 100 million won ($76,700) plus additional compensation for delayed payment, to three family members of the victim who was subject to forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule over Korea.
In March 1943, the victim surnamed Kim, from North Jeolla, was forcibly taken to work at a steel mill in Kyushu, Japan, at the age of 18 to work for the precursor of Nippon Steel without pay.
He was told that he would receive his salary when he returned home, but he was not paid a single penny.
Kim died in November 2012. His wife and three children filed a lawsuit in May 2015, seeking 100 million won to “compensate damages for being forcibly taken away to work” in Japan.
In the latest ruling, the top court acknowledged that the plaintiff had faced obstacles that “prevented them from objectively exercising their rights” as victims of forced mobilization during Japanese colonial rule.
It upheld that the plaintiff’s right to individual compensation has not expired under the 1965 Korea-Japan claims agreement.
Later Thursday, the Japanese government expressed regret for the latest Supreme Court ruling, claiming it went against the 1965 agreement, which normalized bilateral ties.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a press statement that the ruling was “extremely regrettable and totally unacceptable” and formally lodged a protest with the Korean Embassy in Tokyo.
The Supreme Court in October and November 2018 made landmark rulings ordering Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate forced labor victims after acknowledging the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea.
The forced labor issue has contributed to frayed bilateral relations, though the two countries have worked to overcome historical issues after the Yoon Suk Yeol administration said in March 2023 that it would set up a Korea-funded public foundation to compensate forced labor victims, without requiring Japan’s direct involvement.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]