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Unionized Chanel cosmetics workers threaten strike

A member of Chanel Korea‘s labor union talks to the press in a conference in front of the Chanel Korea office in Jung-gu, central Seoul, Tuesday. (Korea Federation of Service Workers Union)
A member of Chanel Korea‘s labor union talks to the press in a conference in front of the Chanel Korea office in Jung-gu, central Seoul, Tuesday. (Korea Federation of Service Workers Union)

Cosmetic store workers of Chanel Korea said Tuesday they would walk off from their jobs for an indefinite period from Dec. 17 if the French luxury brand fails to pay overdue wages and take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Union members representing 390 store workers at 85 cosmetics boutiques of Chanel held a press conference Tuesday in front of the firm’s office in Jung-gu, central Seoul. 

The members are part of the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, a major umbrella labor group in South Korea.

“Our demands are clear. Chanel Korea shall pay holiday allowances, which have been overdue for the past two years, to shop workers. It should guarantee paid holidays, share operating profits with its workers and facilitate a working environment safe from sexual harassment,” said Kim So-hyeon, head of the labor union, at the event.

The union argued Chanel Korea had not been paying its store staff for working on holidays. It also urged the company to raise their wages and make efforts to root out sexual harassment in the workplace. 

In regards to overdue payment, participants said they were mulling to submit a complaint to the Korea National Contact Point, an organization that works to encourage multinational companies follow a set of exemplary norms -- such as protecting the rights of laborers and ensuring transparency -- set by member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. 

The set of norms, called the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, are nonbinding and voluntary. The Korea NCP offers assistance to help resolve disputes between concerned parties. 

Workers also urged the company amp up efforts to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Last November, Chanel Korea drew media attention after a cosmetic store staff told a local media outlet that a 40-something executive from the company had been sexually harassing multiple store staffers over the past 10 years. 

Soon after the expose, union members filed a complaint. The case was transferred to the prosecution from the police in May this year. 

While Chanel Korea said it took an “appropriate” disciplinary measure against the executive, as stated in its internal regulations, union members argued the measures were not enough to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Following the announcement, union members began to take turns to stage a one-person protest in front of the firm on Tuesday. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the union will stage a walkout next week.

Chanel Korea told The Korea Herald on Friday that it would continue to “sincerely partake in negotiations” with the labor union so that “all employees and the company can achieve mutually advantageous outcomes that allow both parties to grow together.”

By Kang Jae-eun (kang.jaeeun@heraldcorp.com)
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