Samsung realizes behaving ethically is good for business, says compliance boss

Mega-corp has mastered the complexity of numerous technologies but it took several scandals to impart this obvious lesson

Samsung's compliance committee chair has told local media the massive conglomerate is now on the straight and narrow, after years spent dealing with the legal fallout of past ethical lapses.

Lee Chan-hee told South Korean newswire Yonhap the chaebol's culture has changed, and potentially sensitive issues are now investigated by the committee he chairs.

"I think management now believes abiding by the law is much more helpful in doing business. They paid a costly price for caving to short-sighted gain and political pressure," said Lee.

The compliance committee Lee heads was launched in 2020 following a 2019 court order requiring Samsung to adopt preventative measures against ethical breaches.

Lee's comments come a week after Samsung reportedly decided to rejoin industry group the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI).

Samsung left the group six years ago amidst scandal when South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye, was found to have used FKI as a means to secure payments from member companies – including Samsung. That finding diminished the Federation's reputation and saw Park impeached and jailed for nearly five years.

Samsung vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong was jailed over related payments and spent for about a year inside before his two and a half year sentence was suspended.

Lee later returned to jail, serving 18 months of a 30-month sentence on different bribery charges, before running into trouble for drug abuse. All of which saw him promoted to the role of Samsung's executive chairman – a gig he retains to this day.

FKI since then has sought to rehabilitate its image. Last week it even changed its name to Korea Economic Association and set up an ethics committee.

In his inaugural address, the lobby group's newly appointed chairman, Ryu Jin, pledged to "clean up the dark past and cut off the wrong links," adding that the reconstituted org will "practice ethical management and ensure that a transparent corporate culture takes root throughout the business world."

Samsung rejoining the group comes with a caveat: if the organization again becomes corrupt, the chaebol will again quit. ®

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