Women’s groups organizing under the name “Women’s Groups Demanding the Resolution of Paris Baguette’s Illegal and Unjust Labor Practices” hold a press conference outside of SPC Group’s offices in Seoul on May 18. The sign reads, "Paris Baguette's labor rights score? Donut [zero]." (Park Go-eun/The Hankyoreh)
“Paris Baguette’s bread is made by grinding down women laborers’ right to humane working conditions. We will not eat bread made through labor exploitation.”
At 11 am on Wednesday, activists from 55 women’s groups across South Korea gathered in front of the headquarters of SPC Group in Seoul’s Seocho District under one name: Women’s Groups Demanding the Resolution of Paris Baguette’s Illegal and Unjust Labor Practices.
The activists had come together to express their solidarity with Lim Jong-lin, the president of the Paris Baguette branch of the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions’ Korean Chemical, Textile & Food Workers' Union who was on the 52nd day of her hunger strike demanding an apology from Paris Baguette, 80% of whose bakers are women, for its unjust labor practices.
During their protest, the activists pointed out that the SPC Group had robbed its women employees of their most basic labor rights: the right to rest and the right to motherhood.
They stated, “A woman laborer has been on a hunger strike for 52 days in the year 2022 in South Korea demanding the most natural of rights: the guarantee of one-hour lunch breaks, regular holidays, the right to motherhood, annual paid holidays, and menstrual leave,” adding, “Paris Baguette bakers working on site have been deprived of their right to healthy and safe working conditions and are being forced to bake bread day and night with no days off and without rest.”
Underlying the labor exploitation Paris Baguette bakers have been subjected to is the SPC Group’s questionable employment practices. Though bakers employed by South Korea’s top bakery franchise physically work at Paris Baguette stores, they aren’t technically employees of the SPC Group.
Despite the Ministry of Employment and Labor ordering the conglomerate in 2018 to directly employ its bakers instead of illegally subcontracting them like it had been doing, the group has maintained its practice of indirect employment by turning its existing subcontractor into a subsidiary of its own.
Women’s groups organizing under the name “Women’s Groups Demanding the Resolution of Paris Baguette’s Illegal and Unjust Labor Practices” hold a press conference outside of SPC Group’s offices in Seoul on May 18. (Park Go-eun/The Hankyoreh)
The activists who came together on Wednesday also slammed the SPC Group for discriminating against workers based on gender. According to a business report from SPC Samlip, a major affiliate of the group, the wage gap between men and women employees working in SPC Samlip offices or stores stood at 36.6%, with men employees earning an annual salary of 64.21 million won on average while women employees earned 40.87 million won on average as of December 2021.
Moreover, while men workers were employed by SPC Samlip for seven years and nine months on average, the average length of employment for women workers at the SPC Group affiliate was much shorter, standing at four years and two months.
“Women are working in an environment where it’s difficult to be promoted and to continue to work for an extended period of time,” the activists pointed out. They continued, “The SPC Group has profited from and maximized its earnings by discriminating against women workers based on gender.”
Paris Baguette’s women workers have been subjected to violations of their right to motherhood and health as well. Han In-im, secretary general of the Center for Worker’s Health and Safety who in 2018 conducted a survey of 543 Paris Baguette workers across South Korea, of which 419 were women, said, “The annual rate of miscarriages for Paris Baguette women workers is as high as 50%. This is twice the figure for women workers in general, which is 23%. When asked whether they were able to freely receive prenatal care after finding out that they were pregnant, only 10% of respondents said they could.”
“[The SPC Group] cannot be left to violate women workers’ right to health like this. Labor supervision should be carried out as soon as possible,” Han said.
Citizens also voiced their support for women workers of Paris Baguette. The activists gathered in front of the SPC Group’s headquarters had compiled comments made by citizens denouncing Paris Baguette’s labor exploitation into a statement. Over 150 messages had been sent in by supporters of the cause from May 12 to May 16.
Yeoljjung (alias), an activist with Korean Womenlink’s women’s labor team, read the statement out loud. Yeoljjung added, “We are laborers before we are consumers, and we are fellow citizens living together with bakers. We the citizens will stand by branch president Lim Jong-lin until the end. If Paris Baguette disregards branch President Lim Jong-lin and laborers, we will disregard Paris Baguette as well.”
By Park Go-eun, staff reporter
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