War Profiteer of the Month: Hyundai

Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. (HHI) is the world's largest shipbuilding company, headquartered in Ulsan, South Korea. It has seven business divisions: Shipbuilding, Offshore & Engineering, Industrial Plant & Engineering, Engine & Machinery, Electro & Electric Systems, Construction Equipment, and Green Energy. HHI is part of the Hyundai Group, which is a South Korean conglomerate (Chaebol) founded by Chung Ju-yung. The first company in the group was founded in 1947 as a construction company. With government assistance, Chung and his family members rapidly expanded into various industries, eventually becoming South Korea's second biggest chaebol. The company spun off many of its better known businesses after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, including Hyundai Automotive Group, Hyundai Department Store Group, and Hyundai Heavy Industries Group.
The Hyundai Group now focuses on elevators, container services, and tourism to Mount Kumgang. As of March 2007, Hyundai Engineering and Construction is the main shareholder of Hyundai Merchant Marine, which is the de facto holding company of Hyundai Group.

Hyundai, providing the dirty tools of Israeli apartheid

By Teon Kim

In the occupied Palestinian territories, it’s not uncommon to spot the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) destroying Palestinian homes and structures with construction vehicles, brandishing flashy brand-named equipment from companies such as Caterpillar and Volvo. Lagging a little behind but catching up to the destructive wake of these more familiar war profiteers one can see South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).

HHI’s construction vehicles are often witnessed at Palestinian home demolitions in Area C, West Bank and East Jerusalem. In most cases, the IDF can be seen destroying Palestinian homes which the Israeli authorities claim have been illegally built. In contrast, the international community designates both home demolitions and the construction of settlements in occupied territory as war crimes in violation of international humanitarian law. According to “the world’s most quoted Article” (Article 49) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

A simple Google search for ‘Hyundai, Palestine, demolition’ brings up countless video clips on Youtube along with an array of pictures, articles and other documents. It’s been approximately seven years since Hyundai equipment was first witnessed being used in home demolitions, though it’s hard to trace back exactly when it started due to the Hyundai’s silence on the matter. Amongst the innumerable cases, the most recent one reportedly took place in Beit Hanena, East Jerusalem on February 5, 2013.

Beside sedans, SUVs and other motor vehicles exported to Israel, Hyundai’s Robex 320 LC-7A, a multi-functional folk-lift and excavator, is being used by the IDF to destroy Palestinian homes. HHI supplies its products to the Israeli company Automotive Equipment and Vehicle Ltd. (AEV). According to AEV’s own website, it is involved in the “import, marketing and service for Hyundai forklift trucks and spare parts”. This is also confirmed on HHI’s own website.

Regarding HHI’s involvement in war crimes, a South Korean activist from Palestine Peace and Solidarity in South Korea (PPS) made a telephone inquiry regarding the contract between the two companies to HHI’s International Construction Department Manager, Mr. Steve Kim. In response to questions about the length of Hyundai’s relationship with AEV and awareness of their equipment being used for military purposes such illegal home demolitions in breach of international law, Mr. Kim simply replied that HHI had already sent an official notice to end its contract with AEV in early January of 2013 and had supplied its equipment for the purpose of construction rather than for military use. He also stated that he was aware that their equipment was being used for construction and reconstruction inside Palestine.

He implied that they were unaware that Hyundai’s products were being widely used in military operations in the occupied Palestinian territories, an activity which is regarded as a war crime under international law. After receiving their vaguely-worded response about Hyundai ending its contract with AEV, PPS made another phone call to clarify the matter asking whether they intended to stop selling equipment to Israeli companies. They replied that they were looking for another Israeli company to trade with and had no duty to inform us of their business practices.

Hyundai Heavy Industries must follow international law. This demand draws not only on the responsibility of large companies to conduct business ethically, but also on established principles of international law. As a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention, South Korea has an obligation to ensure South Korean companies are not complicit in war crimes, including HHI.

Hyundai must terminate all connections to the IDF. The demolition of Palestinian homes is a war crime and one which aides Israel’s illegal policy of colonial settlement expansion, contradicting Hyundai’s slogan of a ‘Happy future for all the humanity’.

Teon Kim is a member of Palestine Peace and Solidarity in South Korea (PPS)