SEOUL – Eight lawsuits were filed in South Korea on Thursday seeking compensation from coke producer Nippon Coke & Engineering Co. and three other Japanese companies over wartime forced labor, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said.
The remaining three firms named in the suits are Nippon Steel Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and machinery manufacturer Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. The suits have 31 plaintiffs, including surviving family members of the alleged victims, the lawyers said.
They are the first wartime labor compensation lawsuits to be filed against Japanese firms that involve multiple plaintiffs since the South Korean Supreme Court in October ruled against steel-maker Nippon Steel Corp. over forced labor during World War II.
Since the top court ruling, lower courts in South Korea have issued similar decisions against Japanese companies, making it likely the new lawsuits will result in similarly unfavorable outcomes for the companies being sued.
Similar lawsuits are also being prepared against six other Japanese companies — Mitsubishi Materials Corp., Nishimatsu Construction Co., construction company Kumagai Gumi Co., petroleum firm Japan Energy Corp., metal producer Dowa Holdings Co. and coal importer Hokkaido Colliery & Steamship Co. — according to an official of a support group for the plaintiffs.
“We plan to file more lawsuits going forward as we target a wider range of Japanese firms,” said Lee Hyung-joon, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, at a news conference in Seoul.
Aside from the new lawsuits, at least 12 similar cases are pending in South Korea involving about 920 plaintiffs.
Excluding two cases that each target a number of companies, the remaining 10 suits affect four Japanese companies: Nippon Steel, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nachi-Fujikoshi and shipbuilder Hitachi Zosen Corp.
Nippon Steel changed its name this month. It was previously called Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.
Nippon Coke & Engineering was previously known as Mitsui Mining Co.
Nippon Steel, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nachi-Fujikoshi have already had company assets in South Korea seized after the firms defied court decisions ordering them to compensate the plaintiffs.
But the plaintiffs have so far stopped short of asking the courts to sell them.
The civic groups that support the lawsuits say the South Korean government should take action to force the settlement of the issue.
“This is an issue involving everyone who suffered under Japan’s colonization, and the government should therefore be at the forefront of (efforts to forge) a settlement,” said Cho Si-hwan, a researcher at the Center for Historical Truth and Justice, at Thursday’s news conference.
Tokyo maintains that the issue of compensation arising from its 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula was finalized in 1965, when Japan and South Korea established diplomatic ties, through an agreement on the settlement of problems related to property and claims.
But South Korea’s top court said in its rulings in October and November that the right of victims of forced mobilization to seek compensation was not terminated by the accord.
Tokyo has warned that it would retaliate if the business interests of Japanese firms were damaged by measures taken in the wake of the rulings in South Korea.