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KLES to step up support for firms operating in overseas countries, help them improve ESG performance

Lee Dong-won is the executive director of the international labor affairs office at the Korea Labor and Employment Service.
Lee Dong-won is the executive director of the international labor affairs office at the Korea Labor and Employment Service.

United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai last month met with South Korea Minister of Employment and Labor An Kyung-duk to share the Biden administration’s worker-centered trade policy and to discuss the importance of worker rights, which has become increasingly important amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the “fourth industrial revolution” that has been much-hailed during the crisis.

The pandemic has not only accelerated the fourth industrial revolution, but also sparks new discussions on sustainability and social responsibility of enterprises. A global consensus has now been formed that the pursuit of profit alone will not guarantee corporate sustainability. The COVID-19 crisis has also amplified fault lines in global value chains, pushing businesses to adapt changes.

Global initiatives on environmental, social and governance factors now encourage businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, more than ever before. The governments require companies to respect human rights, protect the environment and comply with ethical business practices in their operations and supply chains. South Korean companies operating in overseas countries should also introduce measures in line with worldwide ESG initiatives.

The European Union, for instance, has recently approved a legislative measure for a set of regulations setting a corporate duty, regarding environmental protection and sustainability, human rights principles and improved governance practices. Some countries, including Germany, the UK and France, are moving to introduce legal measures as well to ensure that ESG practices are carried out, and to impose sanctions in cases where investigators find a company noncompliant.

As the country’s only organization with expertise in labor-management relations and employment policies, the Korea Labor and Employment Service has been providing support to local businesses operating overseas to solve worker-related issues. Starting with a seminar in 1998 for companies that entered the Vietnamese market, the KLES has launched a series of programs to help local companies solve labor-management issues in foreign countries and support them to successfully settle in new markets.

This year, the KLES has also held two forums, in May and August, to help local firms better understand comprehensive ESG requirements. Through the forums, the KLES supported Korean firms operating in foreign countries to seek new business strategies in ways to respect human rights in their business activities and supply chains.

Through online sessions during the forums, local companies consulted with the KLES on implementing sustainable and socially responsible policies that correspond to ESG requirements. The KLES also provided guidelines to local firms so that they can better respond to different laws relating to the safety and health of employees in foreign countries, as well as global trends in labor relations.

At the forum, the KLES shared the South Korean government’s support plan for companies that undertake sustainable and socially responsible policies.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the KLES has started to strengthen its online communication channels for businesses operating both here and abroad. Through the online sessions, the organization expects to timely deliver global trends in labor relations, as well as other information that they may need in operating their businesses in overseas countries, in cooperation with the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency and law offices in their regions.

In South Korea, the level of ESG regulations has been relatively less developed compared to other developed countries. As more and more countries will ask firms to make ESG developments, the KLES will exercise its best efforts to help Korean companies adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies down the road.

By Lee Dong-won, Executive Director at Korea Labor and Employment Service (

The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.

By Shim Woo-hyun (
Korea Herald daum