South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling ordering Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan to compensate South Koreans who were forced into labor at their factories during World War II.
The lower court ruling ordered Mitsubishi to pay five South Korean Women between 100 million and 150 million won each, or about USD $89,000 to $133,000. A separate ruling on Thursday ordered payment of 80 million won each to six South Korean men who were forced into labor at Mitsubishi’s shipyard and machine tool factory.
During World War II, when Korea was a colony of Japan, forced labor was used to support the Japanese war effort. Japan claims that the issue of Korean forced labor was settled in the 1965 agreements establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries. However, the South Korean Supreme Court held in an October decision that the agreements should not prevent South Korean citizens who were forced into labor from seeking redress. That ruling awarded USD $88,700 each to six South Koreans forced to work at Japan’s Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal. As a result, the latest ruling against Mitsubishi of Japan was anticipated by many.
Leaders from Mitsubishi as well as Japan’s government have expressed displeasure with the rulings. Mitsubishi of Japan called the verdicts “deeply regrettable,” and Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono called the court’s decisions “totally unacceptable.” Japan and the companies involved have threatened to take the cases to international courts unless the South Korean government steps in.
According to South Korean historians, hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced into labor in Japan, China and elsewhere in order to fund the Japanese war effort. Several thousand of these individuals are still alive, and the Supreme Court’s recent rulings could pave the way for suits against hundreds of other Japanese companies.