UNICEF Korea fined for ‘no sanctions against sexual harasser’

2018년 04월 13일 13시 55분

Three months after the Korea Committee for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF Korea) fired the whistleblower who raised allegations, including allegation of sexual harassment by its Secretary General, the organization was ordered to pay a 3.2 million won (USD 3,000) fine for “failing to take any formal sanctions on the sexual harasser.”

The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) started an investigation in early January on the sexual harassment allegation against Secretary General Suh Dae-won. After three months of investigation, the Ministry found the allegations to be true.

UNICEF Korea released an official statement and argued that the government investigation was based on “one-sided insistence” and that it would appeal the decision through legal proceedings.

Suh Dae-won finished his first three-year term on March 30. Many observers expected him to serve a second term before the allegations against him were made public.

UNICEF Korea held a closed ‘honorary’ retirement ceremony for Suh on April 3rd, inviting Korean celebrity Goodwill Ambassadors and representatives from other children funds. No press were allowed in this honorary ceremony.

▲ UNICEF Korea staff members waiting for Secretary General Suh Dae-won on April 3rd, to greet him for his honorary retirement ceremony

Appeal request for sexual harassment case ignored

A staff member who previously worked as a personal secretary to the Secretary General Suh claimed to have been sexually harassed by him in August 2016. She informed Kim, who was her immediate supervisor at the time. After Kim raised this issue, UNICEF Korea organized an internal investigation committee, but there was no finding of misconduct against Suh. The staff member sent an email to UNICEF Korea’s President Song Sang-hyun and other board members, pleading for reconsideration of this case.

In this email the staff member wrote: “Do you think there is anything I can gain by reporting workplace sexual harassment? Does a UNICEF staff member just have to bear with being compared to a Dongducheon prostitute (*prostitutes serving U.S. military in South Korea)? Is being told that ‘your waist is too thin to have children’ nothing serious?” and earnestly asked for a new investigation, but her request went unanswered.

UNICEF Korea said they “dismissed the request due to the lack of enough new evidence to start a retrial.” However, as the Korean government upheld the sexual harassment claim to be true, there is the possibility of UNICEF Korea turning a blind eye on its Secretary General’s sexual harassment.

But UNICEF Korea’s President Song Sang-hyun, who formerly led the International Criminal Court (ICC), has argued otherwise to his staff members. On March 22, he held a meeting with all staff members of UNICEF Korea to “get the facts straight, for the last time.” Newstapa obtained a recording of this meeting.

President Song claimed that UNICEF’s internal investigation on the sexual harassment allegation went through a “fair and sound procedure.” All staff members, including the staff member who claimed to have been sexually harassed, are known to have attended this meeting.

▲ Song Sang-hyun, President of UNICEF Korea and former President of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

Staff who found ‘no misconduct’ against SG got promotion

According to President Song, Kim, who initially raised the sexual harassment allegations and was later fired, argued that the internal investigation committee was a result of cronyism. President Song said “I never promoted cronyism [in appointing committee members]. I would stake my life on it.”

Newstapa found that the two staff members who were in charge of internal counsel when the sexual harassment was first reported later joined the internal investigation committee. This investigation committee concluded that the Secretary General was not guilty, due to the fact that “the sexual harassment was reported by a third party (Kim), and that the alleged victim did not show any change of action after claiming to have been sexually harassed, and even if such comments were made, it is difficult to deem it as sexual harassment just because the claimant felt uncomfortable.”

The two staff members, who were team managers at the time of the investigation, were later both promoted to director level on February 26th.

“Some executives said sexual harassment ‘... can happen with paternal figures’”

A former executive of UNICEF Korea, who was in a position to know the circumstances well, told Newstapa that the former PR team manager was verbally abused by the Secretary General. The first instance was for not hiring an unqualified applicant that the Secretary General preferred. The second instance was for reporting the ongoing sexual harassment case to the UNICEF Headquarters per company regulation.

“If the UNICEF Headquarters does not know, then their policies don’t matter,” the former executive said, adding that “executives wanting to seize this [sexual harassment] opportunity as a chance to get promotions casually say ‘it can happen with paternal figures’. Alternatively, they say ‘what’s all this fuss when it just takes the victim and the harasser to meet, talk and apologize?’”

UNICEF Korea Board of Directors attempts to belatedly ratify dismissal of fired whistleblower

Meanwhile, the recording also showed President Song’s attempts to belatedly ratify the dismissal of Kim at the board meeting on March 28th, three months after his firing.

Kim was fired in December 2017. UNICEF Korea told Newstapa that “the dismissal was not attributed to the reporting of the allegation, but due to the collective actions of the staff member in workplace.” Kim filed an application for unfair dismissal to the Seoul Regional Labor Relations Commission. The case is still ongoing.

President Song told staff members that “Kim is arguing that the dismissal is invalid based on the lack of ratification from the board of directors,” and that “although no ratifications by the board is needed for decisions made by the disciplinary committee, we will perfect the procedure by ratifying the dismissal of Kim to make sure he can’t find faults with the lack of a written resolution.” He also claimed that “Kim does not meet the requirements for a whistleblower who deserves protection.”

UNICEF Korea declined to answer whether the dismissal was ratified.

President Song says ‘everything is Kim’s fault’

For nearly two hours, the former ICC judge told all UNICEF Korea staff members that all allegations against the Secretary General were groundless rumors, and were part of a conspiracy “to oust Secretary General Suh Dae-won,” led by the fired whistleblower, Kim.

On the allegation that the Secretary General tried to force his staff members to hire an unqualified photographer, President Song explained that it was Kim’s fault for not carrying out rightful instructions. He said he agreed to Suh’s proposal to hire a professional photographer to record UNICEF’s work and gave instructions to look for appropriate candidates.

However, the then-PR team manager stated that she received a resume of an applicant from Secretary General Suh Dae-won during the internal investigations. According to her statement, Kim proposed to hire an experienced professional photographer instead, since the applicant had no professional photography background.

In spite of this proposal, the Secretary General urged them to hire the applicant and said, “Neither of you (HR manager Kim and the then-PR manager) have an eye for discerning which is the best picture in an open recruitment. You have to have an eye to pick which candidate is the best. Why don’t you listen to me? It has been ages since I told you to hire (the applicant)!”

▲ Statement submitted by the then-PR team manager to the internal investigation committee

President Song’s flip-flopping on SG’s attempted breach of trust

President Song also spoke up for the Secretary General on the allegations of attempted breach of trust at the March 22nd meeting. He claimed that the Secretary General’s instructions to get loans from a bank with the highest interest rate and Kim’s disagreement to this showed “how active communication is within UNICEF Korea and how healthy its structure is.”

“Since the bank with higher interest rate offered to not charge us with brokerage fee,” he said, “even if it might have made us pay more in interest, the 30 million won brokerage fee may have saved us more money.” Thus, according to President Song, it is difficult to conclusively say that getting the loan from the bank with the lowest interest was better.

The former ICC President also said “as a lawyer, breach of trust is constituted when a person who is administering another’s business, with the intention to cause loss to the business, does so in violation of one’s duty.” Therefore, he concluded, that the allegations against the Secretary General does not constitute breach of trust.

However, according to an email written at the time in February 2016 by President Song to the Secretary General obtained by Newstapa, the President wrote: “I heard that you (Secretary General Suh Dae-won) said I approved the loan form Shinhan bank, but I never approved it. According to internal regulations, important decisions like this should be approved by me, the President, but I never signed the approval,” virtually smacking down on the Secretary General’s plans to go forward with the bank with the highest interest.

He also added: “your proposal to get loans from the highest interest rate bank under the conditions of no brokerage fees is a double contract which will not be accepted by the board of directors, and it might get you and related staff members into unnecessary trouble such as breach of trust,” further instructing the Secretary General to choose the loan through open competition.

▲ Email written by President Song to Secretary General Suh Dae-won