SEOUL — A South Korean appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling ordering Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel Corp. to compensate Korean plaintiffs who claimed they were forced to work during World War II.
The Seoul High Court ruling comes in line with Supreme Court decisions last year ordering Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel, to pay damages to victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The issue of wartime labor compensation has strained bilateral ties, with the Japanese government taking the position that the issue was settled by a 1965 accord under which Japan provided South Korea with $500 million in “economic cooperation.”
The Seoul Central District Court originally ordered the steelmaker in 2015 to pay seven plaintiffs 100 million won ($86,300) each, prompting the company to appeal the ruling to the higher court.
In late October, the top court ordered Nippon Steel, then named Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., to pay a different group of South Koreans 100 million won each in damages for wartime forced work. Since then, courts in South Korea have ruled in favor of plaintiffs in similar cases.
About 974 million won worth of the steelmaker’s assets in South Korea were seized earlier this year upon the request of lawyers for plaintiffs, as the Japanese firm refused to comply with the top court’s compensation order.
Last week, South Korea said it was open to bilateral talks on the compensation issue with Japan on the condition that companies from both countries fund compensation to the plaintiffs.
But Japan rejected the proposal, saying it has moved on from seeking bilateral talks to an arbitration process involving other countries under the terms of the 1965 bilateral accord.
Another appeals court ruling involving a Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. is scheduled Thursday.