Photo: SPC pastry factory continues operation while the machine that killed a worker (left) is simply covered up with a tarp. Credit: National Democratic Labor Union for Chemical, Textile and Food Industries.
On October 15, a 23-year-old female worker at a pastry factory owned by the SPC Group was killed when she was caught in the blade of an industrial sauce mixer. The machine was supposed to have a safety lid, which the factory operators removed for faster work. The safety protocol required a team of three attending the machine at all times, but she was working alone at the time.
The SPC Group, operator of South Korea’s largest bakery chain Paris Baguette 파리바게뜨, as well as the South Korean outposts of Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts and Shake Shack, has been notorious for its unsafe working conditions, which caused a Paris Baguette union leader to hold a 53-day hunger strike earlier this year in May. (See previous coverage, “Paris Baguette Hunger Strike.”) In a 2018 survey, 80.7% of Paris Baguette’s bakers said they had to report to work despite being sick. Half of the company’s pregnant bakers miscarried in 2017.
The SPC Group reacted callously to this death as well. Other workers at the factory tried to rescue the woman by rushing to empty the sauce from the machine and prying her body off the industrial sized metal blades. Although these workers suffered from post-traumatic stress, the company told them to return to work after simply covering up the machine that killed their colleague. As condolences to the funeral of its dead employee, the SPC Group sent two boxes of its cheap pastries that their employee had died while making.
The negative publicity is causing a consumer boycott of SPC products. The company is also facing an investigation for a potential violation of the Serious Disasters Act 중대재해법, a law enacted during the Moon Jae-in 문재인 administration that punishes corporations for industrial accidents that cause death. (See previous coverage, “Serious Disasters Act Takes Effect.”) Under the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration, however, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance 기획재정부 has proposed to abolish the Serious Disasters Act’s criminal penalties on executives, and relax the requirements for providing a safe working environment.