SEOUL, July 13 (UPI) — South Korea’s e-commerce platform Coupang, which went public earlier this year on the New York Stock Exchange, is facing consumer boycotts and complaints over working conditions and hiring practices.
Over the past month, Twitter and Instagram users have shared hashtags about canceling Coupang membership and posted photos showing they had deleted their Coupang accounts.
The boycott started in mid-June when a firefighter was killed in a blaze at a Coupang warehouse south of Seoul.
The fire sparked criticism from politicians and the media that Coupang has lax safety standards and poor working conditions at its warehouses.
Like giant online retailer Amazon in the United States, Coupang, which has about 15 million users, has faced a public outcry over how it treats workers.
At least nine Coupang workers, including two subcontractors, have died over the past year due to an “inhumane working environment,” lawyer Kwon Young-gook, co-chairman of the Committee for Coupang Workers’ Human Rights and Health, told international media in April.
Coupang founder Kim Bom-suk resigned from the company’s chairmanship, which prompted criticism that he was trying to avoid responsibility for the fire.
Against this backdrop, the boycott started.
Coupang promised to provide lifelong support to the family of the firefighter who died. The company also said that founder Kim stepped down on May 31, although it wasn’t announced until later.
Fresh controversies surround the company’s hiring practices.
On Blind, an anonymous community application for the workplace, users have complained that Coupang dropped job offers after they had been confirmed via phone.
A Coupang representative denied those accusations to UPI News Korea: “We have never canceled our job offers after they are concluded.”
Coupang’s trade union for delivery workers complains that conditions have not improved.
“In fact, the working conditions are getting worse because demands for delivery keep rising due to the virus pandemic,” Coupang courier union’s Secretary-General Choi Se-wook said.
“In addition, it seems that Coupang is trying to cut costs to turn to profit and make many new tests, which add more workload on us,” he said.
Coupang has not been profitable since its establishment in 2010, with accumulated losses of about $4 billion over the past 10 years.
The firm substantially reduced its net loss last year, but the figure still stood at $475 million. Its 2020 sales amounted to $12 billion.
“In consideration of Coupang’s size, I don’t think that the company does its best to take social responsibility in line with its scale,” People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy official Kim Eun-jung said in a phone interview.
The outfit is one of the major civic groups in the country.