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[Newsmaker] Hanssem sexual assault claims spark boycott

Allegations of sexual assault between employees have marred furniture brand Hanssem in controversy, with consumers even calling for a boycott of the firm’s products.

In late October, a woman who identified herself as a new employee at Hanssem posted on an online community, alleging that she had been sexually assaulted multiple times since joining the company late last year.

Hanssem's headquarters in Southern Seoul (Yonhap)
Hanssem's headquarters in Southern Seoul (Yonhap)

According to the post, the woman was sexually assaulted at a motel by an employee tasked with training her, three days after she began working at Hanssem. When she reported the incident to police, she met with Hanssem’s head of human resources, who she claimed persuaded her to change her statement on the incident. She said the official also tried to assault her. 

The woman alleged that the head of human resources had asked her to keep quiet about the rape “because Hanssem’s main customer base consists of women.”

She said she eventually agreed to change her statement, adding, “The assaulter came to my house to pressure me to change the statement, and I had to keep my job.”

The human resources director has since been fired from his post, but the instructor accused of raping the female employee is denying all the allegations. 

The company withdrew its decision to fire the male employee, considering that the female employee had changed her initial statement and that police had found insufficient evidence.

The post immediately went viral, leading to a flood of criticism against Hanssem for its handling of the issue, especially regarding the charge that the company tried to cover up the report.

Negative sentiment was further fueled by the claim that before the rape, the woman had been secretly photographed by a male colleague while she was using the restroom. The male colleague was fired by Hanssem after a police investigation.

Hanssem responded to the public outcry with a statement that said the company “had never attempted to cover up, minimize or distort the facts of the incident and will not do so in the future.”

Choi Yang-ha, chairman of the company, apologized to employees Saturday night in an email, saying that he was “pained” that the company had not “looked after its employees” and that he would work to increase communication within the firm.

However, many online commenters are calling for a boycott of the company’s products.

“I want to tear down my Hanssem kitchen,” said one commenter. “I‘ll never use Hanssem products again.” 

Similar negative comments have been spreading among internet communities of mothers. An online petition to Cheong Wa Dae asking for a thorough investigation of the case has gathered more than 12,000 signatures as of Monday.

The furniture brand targets women and newlyweds as its main consumer base. It was founded in 1970 by honorary Chairman Cho Chang-geol. 

On Monday, the company’s stock opened at about 4 percent lower than Friday’s close. At market close, the stock was trading at 166,000 won ($148.85), 2.64 percent lower than Friday’s close.

By Won Ho-jung (