Protests, boycott against Paris Baguette, SPC spread following factory worker's death

Participants in a memorial ceremony lay flowers to pay respect to a deceased 23-year-old worker in front of the SPC headquarters in Seoul, Thursday. She died in an accident at a baking factory in Pyeongtaek affiliated with SPC on Saturday. Yonhap

By Lee Hae-rin

Following the death of a young worker at a factory affiliated with food and beverage giant SPC, public outrage against the company has been escalating due to its handling of the incident.

On Saturday, a 23-year-old female employee at the factory in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province died in an accident in which her upper body was caught in a sauce mixer machine. She was supporting her mother and younger sibling by working at the factory, and aimed to run a Paris Baguette store someday.

However, it was revealed that the factory continued to operate two machines on the site of the accident the day after the employee was killed. Also, the factory had another accident a week earlier where an employee's hand was caught in another production line machine but was not sent to the hospital due to their status as a non-regular worker.

To condemn SPC's labor practices, a group of labor unionists and general members of the public staged a memorial ceremony in front of the company's headquarters, as well as one-person protests in front of 1,000 Paris Baguette stores, Thursday. The franchise has over 3,400 branches in the country.

The company has continued to trivialize workers' safety and health, said Yim Min-gyung, a member of the Korean Women Workers Association, which took part in the collective action during the memorial ceremony. About 50 percent of female bakers who become pregnant while employed at SPC experience miscarriages due to excessive labor, and the company put at a disadvantage workers who raise objections by denying them leave, she said.

France's General Confederation of Labor CGT (Confederation Generale du Travail) also expressed regrets about the accident and announced it would join the protest in solidarity at 11:30 a.m. Thursday local time. The union will assemble in front of the Paris Baguette branch in Chatelet, Paris to condemn SPC's inhumane treatment of workers and violations of fundamental human rights. SPC operates five Paris Baguette branches in the French capital, having launched there in 2014.

Meanwhile, the Seoul Central District Court ruled against the group's protest the day before. According to the court ruling, the union members and organizations cannot hold one-person protests within 100 meters of any SPC store or make someone else do so. Those who violate the ruling are subject to a 1-million-won ($699) fine, the court ruled.

However, the collective action said the court's ruling is unacceptable and held the nationwide one-person protests as planned.

Meanwhile, the public outrage over SPC is growing, leading to boycotts of not only Paris Baguette but several other SPC-affiliated food and beverage brands. The group operates dozens of food, beverage and dessert brands, including Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, Shake Shack, and Samlip.

“We don't eat bread stained with the blood of workers,” wrote several online users, while many shared the logos of SPC-affiliated franchises on social media and online communities. Terms including “SPC Boycott” and “No-buy movement” have been trending on Twitter.

According to local big data company TDI's analysis of the keyword, “SPC,” the number of search results soared sharply from an average of around 2,000 to over 164,000 by Tuesday. The related search terms included “SPC brands,” “boycott,” “accident” and “death.”

President Yoon Suk-yeol said he has ordered to be advised of details on the accident.

On his way to the presidential office, Thursday, he told Korean reporters that “it is a disheartening event.” Yoon said that the Ministry of Employment and Labor investigated the scene right after the accident and stopped the operations of machines that were without automatic protective devices in the factory.

“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?” the president said.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the labor ministry and police had initiated a search and seizure investigation at the head office of the Pyeongtaek factory. The Gyeonggi District Employment and Labor Office views that the deadly accident was caused by the absence of an automatic protective device ― or interlock ― on the machine.

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