Background to South Korean government's wartime labor issue solution plan

After South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May last year, a public-private consultative body was set up for experts to discuss ways to solve the wartime labor dispute with Japan.

The body has considered a number of solutions. One plan calls on the South Korean government to provide money to plaintiffs in the wartime labor lawsuits in place of the Japanese firms that were ordered by the country's Supreme Court to pay damages. Under that plan, the government would then claim payment from the Japanese companies.

Another plan was to establish a new fund by collecting contributions from Japanese and South Korean firms to make payments to the plaintiffs.

The plan the South Korean government now considers as viable will have the "Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan" make payments to the plaintiffs in place of the Japanese companies. The foundation is a public service corporation set up under a South Korean ministry in 2014 based on a special law.

But representatives for the plaintiffs insist that the Japanese firms, who are the defendants in the lawsuits, should offer compensation and apologies. They strongly oppose the government-favored plan, saying that having the foundation pay the damages without the plaintiffs' consent amounts to nullifying the court rulings.

The South Korean government's position is that a lack of consent from the plaintiffs does not pose legal problems. But South Korea's Yonhap News Agency has reported that legal experts are divided in their views over the matter.
The purpose of the foundation that the South Korean government plans to use includes offering support to people who say they were forced to work for Japanese companies during World War Two.

The foundation's activities are funded by government budgets and donations from South Korean private companies, including giant steelmaker Posco. The firm benefited from the economic cooperation funds Japan provided to South Korea based on the bilateral 1965 agreement on claims settlement.