South Korean citizens are pushing to boycott bakery chain Paris Baguette over its alleged mishandling of the death of a 23-year-old factory employee.
On Oct. 14, the 23-year-old woman was operating a sauce mixing machine alone at the company’s factory in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi province, during her graveyard shift when her upper body was pulled into the appliance. The next day, her crushed body was discovered by her colleagues.
Instead of suspending operations, the factory resumed production the very next day. Other employees who reportedly witnessed their co-worker’s disfigured body being pulled out of the machine were also required to work by the accident site.
According to critics, the machine should be operated by at least two people. The company’s response to the incident, perceived as callous, has prompted nationwide boycotts and protests against Paris Baguette and its parent company SPC Group, both of which are based in Seoul.
Boycotters were further outraged after learning that the company tried to reach a settlement with the parents of the deceased employee on the night of her funeral. According to the mother, representatives had offered a settlement in exchange for not pressing any charges. However, she refused and reportedly hired a lawyer the next day.
“They gave me a specific number… Because all of us weren’t in our right minds, I think they wanted to negotiate with us right there and then,” the mother said.
The bakery also received backlash for sending bread for the funeral’s guests. A company representative defended the gesture and said that it was part of a care package when an SPC employee or their family passes away.
“How can they send bread from the place where she died? Does that make any sense?” the mother told MBC reporters.
It was also reported that another accident occurred in a different production line machine a week before the 23-year-old woman died. The other employee’s hand was reportedly caught in a machine, but they were not sent to a hospital due to their status as a non-full-time worker.
Citizens and labor unionists organized a memorial ceremony in front of the company’s headquarters, which also included one-person protests in front of 1,000 Paris Baguette stores. Netizens also took to social media to spread the boycott of the company, which is known for its pastries and decorated cakes.
“Don’t ever buy or go to the murderous Company SPC!” the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions tweeted.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has since ordered an inquiry into the details of the employee’s death.
“It is a disheartening event,” Yoon told reporters. “We’re living together in this society, so business owners and employees alike, shouldn’t we all have the minimum respect for each other as human beings?”
After the president’s message, SPC Group chairman Huh Young-in publicly apologized and released an apology letter on Oct. 17.
“I take full responsibility for this accident and deserve criticism from the public,” Huh reportedly said at a press conference. “I would like to apologize to the factory workers who worked near the victim. The company should have understood their trauma and sadness and should have been more considerate.”
The company pledged to spend 100 billion won (approximately $70 million) to improve worker safety over the next three years, said SPC President Hwang Jae-bok.
According to local news reports, the boycott has been yielding results. An employee claimed that SPC stores have seen a drop in business since the boycott.
“It is true that sales have decreased,” the employee told Koreaboo. “In places where it has been particularly affected, I have heard sales have dropped 30%.”
Paris Baguette has more than 4,000 locations globally. The food company has plans to operate 1,000 stores in the U.S. by 2030.