|A notice at Coupang's logistics center in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province notifies people of its temporary closure for the safety of customers and workers amid the outbreak of a COVID-19 infection there, May 28. / Korea Times photo by Bae Woo-han|
By Kim Jae-heun
|Coupang founder and CEO Kim Bom|
Coupang closed its logistics centers in Bucheon and Goyang, both in Gyeonggi Province, after 111 workers were confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 at the two locations. The Bucheon center reported its first case, May 23, and the Goyang center, May 28.
Despite the risk of the centers becoming infection clusters for the pandemic, the company took a "reclusive stance" in handling the cases ― it only shut down the Bucheon facility two days after it reported the first case.
Reports allege the company did not notify other workers at the center about the infection before closing the Bucheon warehouse, which is frequented by thousands of Coupang employees and part-time workers.
Coupang's press release on the shutdown was also heavily criticized. In its explanation, the company did not reveal relevant information, such as when the first case was reported and how many people were working at the center at the time. Instead, Coupang highlighted that its delivery service was safe and it would "conduct the strongest disinfection measures at the center," without mentioning what these would be.
It took longer for Coupang to notify its customers. The e-commerce firm made an official apology on its app and website five days after the first case in Bucheon. The apology itself was also criticized, as the company again trumpeted its safety and how its contactless service helped Koreans stay at home amid the pandemic, without revealing any information on the safety measures it was taking.
Most criticism is being leveled at Coupang founder and CEO Kim Bom for the company's secrecy. People note the inadequacy of the measures announced by a company logging more than 7.15 trillion won ($5.78 billion) in sales last year.
"You cannot win money from investors when going public without any sense of responsibility," an industry official said. "Once you are listed, you are obliged to report key numbers regarding your business and possible outstanding risks you are or may be facing to your investors."
Coupang's COVID-19 response is in stark contrast to that of rival Market Kurly, where a worker was confirmed to have been infected with the virus May 24.
Market Kurly closed down its logistic center in Jangji-dong, Seoul, immediately and posted a notice on its online shopping mall about the case. Market Kurly CEO Sophie Kim also released a personal apology.
The case of Amazon in the U.S. also shows that being secretive is not the right choice for a listed firm.
Amazon was also affected by COVID-19 in the early stages of the outbreak in the U.S, but failed to disclose information about its workers being infected with the virus. News reports later alleged that over 900 employees were confirmed to have the coronavirus.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had been stressing the importance of the role of his workers in preventing any further spread of COVID-19, saying its warehouse and delivery employees provided a "lifeline" to customers. However, the company only began revealing data on coronavirus infections at its warehouses after state attorneys general asked Amazon to provide data on worker deaths in May.
"It is not Coupang itself that made it the No.1 e-commerce firm but its deliverymen who are mostly temporary workers. They are the competitiveness of Coupang and if the e-commerce giant ignores this, it can slip from its top position in the local market and that will affect its attempts for an initial public offering on the American stock market," an industry source said.