The North, the South and the Environment

The Korean model of development and its environmental implications

You, Jong Il(Author)

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In March of 1991 eight officials of the Doosan Electro-Materials company, a member of the Doosan chaebol, were arrested for dumping some 300 tons of phenol — known to cause cancer and damage the nervous system — into the Nakdong river which supplies drinking water to around 10 million people. Seven government officials were also arrested for trying to cover up for the company. A month later, the environment minister was forced to resign. Not an unusual story in many countries but very much so in South Korea (hereafter simply Korea) where anything that was seen as a hindrance to growth maximization — be it political freedom, labour rights and social equity, or protection of the environment — used to be ruthlessly suppressed or wilfully neglected. What has changed is the political climate since democratization began in 1987. In an unprecedented reaction to industrial pollution the citizens of Taegu, where the plant was located, took to the streets and the environmental protest movement spread like wildfire, leading, for instance, to the closure of three factories in Taejon charged with polluting the Kuem river. And a successful boycott of the Doosan products, ranging from circuit boards to the most popular beer, Coca Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken, forced its chairman to resign (Merson 1991).

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