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  February 18th, 2015 | Written by

South Korea Cracks Down On Criminal Businesspeople

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An oft-repeated reason given for the rise of Asian economies has been those nations’ large workforces known for their militaristic respect and acquiescence to the corporate hierarchy. Whether it is a floor manager or CEO, we are frequently presented with images of Asian workers doing whatever the boss says without question. Well, perhaps not so much anymore, not if new legislation in South Korea is any gauge.

That country’s national assembly has been presented with the “Conglomerates Ethical Management Special law” which, ostensibly, is designed to ban members of business families from working at their companies for five years if convicted of a crime, which is significant given that, in the past, folks who’ve found themselves in such circumstances have served little or no time or have been pardoned.

But many see the proposed legislation aimed at addressing a trend in South Korean society known as “gabjil” or high-handedness by the country’s rich and powerful—a recent poll by the Korea Press Foundation found that three out of four people believed heavy-handed conduct by superiors to be a national problem.

From the outside, much of this is laid at the feet of Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of the chairman of Korean Air Lines, who is infamous for her “nut rage” outburst onboard a plane that eventually landed her a year’s prison sentence. But resentment has long been brewing: witness the fact that one of the country’s most popular TV shows, “Incomplete Life,” revolves around long-suffering office workers bossed mercilessly by superiors.

Given all of that, there’s a tendency to assume that South Koreans have become even more westernized, inheriting a simmering bitterness about the gap that exists between the rich and the rest of society.

But the legislation may show that, rather than become more like the west, many South Koreans wish to return to a more traditional time when there existed a respect between worker and management. After all, many South Koreans still view it as disrespectful to look a business superior directly in the eye.

The website lists as its most important point of etiquette the fact that, “Modesty and humility are important in Korean culture and therefore it is best to avoid over-selling yourself.”

Or over-demanding; to do so might just be nuts.