About 1,000 salt producers in South Jeolla Province vowed Tuesday to stamp out forced labor and human rights abuses at salt farms, aiming to fend off mounting public criticism after the recent discovery of slavery at salt farms involving disabled workers.
“I’m more than ashamed as a salt producer over the latest human rights abuse case. (The salt farm owners) will ban abusive language and violence and prevent similar cases from happening again,” said Park Hyung-gi, the president of the group of salt producers.
Sinan County Mayor Park Woo-ryang, who participated in the rally, also pledged to toughen punishment for human rights abuses. If any similar cases are found, the salt farms involved will face a suspension of work or even termination of their permits, Park said.
The move was taken after a salt farm slavery case aroused public anger in February. Two men in their 40s, one with a mental disability, were rescued from a salt farm on an island off the southwest coast in Sinan County after years of forced labor with no pay.
They were found to have been deceived by job brokers who told them there were opportunities for regular work on in the island. The case was uncovered after one of the victims secretly sent a letter to his family.
The police and the Ministry of Employment and Labor launched a probe into salt farm workers across the country after President Park Geun-hye directed officials to check if similar cases occurred in other areas and to stamp them out last month. Park said that it was a shocking case that could not be allowed to happen in the 21st century.
Police authorities discovered dozens of additional victims at salt farms who had been unpaid for up to 10 years. Two of them were found to have disabilities. Some were sent to their families and the rest are currently in shelters. A total of 26 employers were caught, with a few arrested. The police also penalized local police officers who were originally in charge of the areas around the salt farm in Sinan County.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org)