Local Rights Center Only Makes *Recommendations* to Companies that Discriminate; Highlights South Korea’s Urgent Need for Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Law

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes. Source: MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

Korea, notoriously, lacks a national, all-embracing, intersectional anti-discrimination law. Ten attempts have been made to pass one since 2007, all failing largely due to the political power of conservative religious groups, opposed to the inclusion of protections for LGBTQ individuals; an 11th is currently in limbo due to the imminent presidential election. Adding insult to injury, racial, ethnic and sexual minorities also lack protection in the constitution, which only prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, and social status, and so haven’t been covered by the various laws prohibiting those specific forms of discrimination enacted since.

It’s in this context that I present my translation of the following subway poster for the Busan Human Rights Center for your interest, and their suggestions of typical cases of discrimination and human rights violations. Most, of course, would be depressingly familiar occurrences in any country. But others, much more commonplace in Korea then elsewhere. In particular, Korea’s pervasive hierarchy and elitism is evident in unnecessary questions about which university you went to, as well as absurd enquiries about your parents’ and grandparents’ backgrounds. So too, when blatant discrimination against women remains rampant despite protections, when photographs are required on resumes, and when society remains obsessed with (female) body weight and appearance, can Korean women especially continue to expect hiring decisions based on their appearance.

Most notably and depressingly of all however, the Busan Human Rights Center only makes recommendations to offending companies and institutions, not prosecuting them or assisting you in doing so. In fairness, I stress I only know of the Center through its website; prosecution may never have been its intended purpose, which other institutions and services may exist to fulfill, and doesn’t diminish its potential role in education, awareness, and/or the value of gentle pressure and public shaming it can bring to bear on offenders. Still, it also instantly brings to mind the well-known National Human Rights Commission of Korea, launched to much fanfare 10 years ago but rendered toothless since.

My translation, starting from the top:

구직, 채용, 면접, 시험에서 받은 If these ever happen to you while looking for a job, being recruited, during an interview, or while in an exam or test…

인권침해 Human Rights Violations

사소한 것이라도 부산광역시 인권센터에 알려주십시오 No matter how trivial or small it seems, please inform the Busan Human Rights Center

Row by row:

업무와 상관없는 특정종교 선발 Choosing candidates based on religion, with no relation to the job

과도한 사적정보 요구 (아빠직업, 엄마 직업, 할아버지 재산, 이모부 고향) Excessive demands for personal information (e.g., parents’ jobs, size of grandfather’s estate, uncle’s hometown)

장애 (장애인 출입이 불가능한 채용시험장) Disability (Recruitment Test Center has no disabled access)

동성애자 아니죠? You’re gay, aren’t you?

채용여부 묵묵부답 Left hanging about your recruitment status

시험 주에 화장실 가려면 시험포기 각서 쓰라 Having to sign an agreement that you fail a test if you need to leave for a bathroom break

노동조합이 생기면 가입할 겁니까? If there was a union, would you join it?

업무와 상관없는 나이제한 Age restrictions that have nothing to do with the job

나라 출신은 안 됩니다 You’re not from X country

서류반납 거절 Refusal to return documents

압박면접을 빙자한 막말 Unnecessary blunt remarks and rudeness for the sake of a pressure interview

업무와 상관없는 학력차별 Choosing candidates based on educational background, with no relation to the job

이번 선거에서 누굴 지지합니까? Who are you voting for in the election?

출산 후에도 회사 다닐 거예요? Are you going to continue working after giving birth?

외모에 대한 노골적 평가 (모델선발하나?) Blatantly evaluating you based on your appearance (Are you choosing a model?)

Finally:

취업과정에서 다양한 인권침해가 발생하고 있습니다. 그러나, 구직자들은 부당한 질문들과 불법한 차별에 대해 제대로 대응하자 못하고 있는 현실이기도 합니다. 부산광역시 인권센터는 구직과정의 인권침해 사례들을 수집하고 개선방안을 관련 기관에 권고할 예정입니다.

Various human rights violations [can] occur in the employment process. However, the reality is that job seekers are not always well equipped to properly respond to unfair questions and cases of illegal discrimination. The Busan Human Rights Center will collect such cases and recommend improvement measures to related organizations. (End.)

Have you or anyone you know experienced any of these yourself in Korea? Please let me know in the comments.

Update:

A Facebook friend asked for clarification about what exactly my issue with the Busan Human Rights Center was, given that even the National Human Rights Commission of Korea can only make recommendations, as is the case with most national human rights institutes worldwide. Here’s my response:
 
My issue is that if I was a victim of discrimination in New Zealand say, and encountered a poster for a similar institution, I would fully expect its stress to be on my potential to prosecute, that the center would be geared around my doing so (even if all it could really do was offer lawyers’ contact details), and that possibly even the center itself would be able to advocate for me if I was financially disadvantaged.
 
That said, I admit have no knowledge or experience of the legal system there, or in Korea. Possibly, my assumptions about rights centers in Western countries are hopelessly naive. But either way, whatever the country, if the best I could hope for from working with one was a sternly worded email to my former employer, then I’m not sure I would bother.
 
I do still mention in the post the valuable roles such centers can have, even if they don’t/can’t prosecute offenders themselves. But whether human rights centers in Korea can’t help with prosecuting because that was never their purpose, and/or whether it’s because many forms of discrimination aren’t even illegal, then either way the poster served to highlight the latter to me, and why I post it for others. I assume too, that if a comprehensive anti-discrimination *was* passed, then human rights centers would be given the remit and resources to take bolder measures against infractions when notified by the public.
 
(#95 in the Korean Sociological Images series)

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If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

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