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Coupang faces scrutiny over driver's death ahead of NY listing

South Korean e-commerce giant vows to 'work harder' to protect workers

A Coupang delivery person loads packages at a logistics center in Incheon, South Korea.    © Reuters

SEOUL -- As Coupang gears up for its initial public offering in New York, the South Korean e-commerce giant is once again facing questions at home over the working conditions of its delivery drivers and logistics workers.

Labor groups on Monday reported a Coupang delivery driver in his 40s had died from what they claimed was overwork. Coupang responded by releasing a statement to local media saying that in the 12 weeks leading up to the driver's death, he had worked an average of around 40 hours per week and had been on vacation for a week at the time of his death.

In the statement, the company said it was cooperating with authorities to determine the cause of death, and called on media to "refrain from reporting" unverified claims about how the driver died.

"Coupang will work harder to protect the health and safety of its workers," the statement said.

The news comes as Coupang seeks a valuation of more than $58 billion in its stock market debut in New York after raising the price range for its offering. The company said in a regulatory filing that it will price its offering between $32 and $34 per share, higher than its earlier range of $27 to $30 a share.

This is not the first time the company's working conditions have come under scrutiny. In October last year Jang Dug-joon, a 27-year-old worker at a Coupang fulfillment center in Daegu, was found dead in his home shortly after returning from working the night shift.

Jang's death made national headlines and drew scrutiny of the labor that drives Coupang's speedy deliveries. The company denied that his death was related to his work, however, and said that in the weeks leading up to his death, Jang worked an average of 44 hours per week. As an irregular worker, Jang was exempt from South Korea's legal limit of 52 working hours per week.

Jang's parents believed their son's death was caused by long hours in a physically strenuous job and petitioned a government commission to have his death recognized as an industrial accident.

In February, the commission ruled that Jang's death was related to his work, and found that, contrary to Coupang's claim, he had worked an average of 58 hours per week in the 12 weeks before his death.

Coupang apologized and issued a statement saying the company respects the commission's ruling and will provide "support" to the bereaved family.

However on Tuesday, Jang Dug-joon's father, Jang Gwang, told Nikkei Asia that Coupang had not contacted the family.

Coupang did not respond to Nikkei Asia's request for comment.

While the deaths received broad media attention and spurred an outpouring of sympathy, it is unclear how many South Koreans are prepared to give up the convenience of speedy deliveries. In a survey conducted in late October by polling company RealMeter, 65% of respondents said courier companies should immediately hire more workers to improve conditions for drivers. However, only 27% of respondents said that consumers should accept delayed deliveries in order to achieve such an improvement.

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