With a background in student activism and investment banking, Yoo-Kyung (YK) Park is driven to change corporate Asia for the better. She’s been at it for eleven years, and is by no means less committed. Are there differences between Asia and other continents when it comes to engaging with companies about their behavior? ‘There is a big difference between the various countries in Asia. There are developed countries, such as Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, and developing countries, which include China, India and South Korea. What they all have in common, though, is that their ESG standards are still under development.’
An interview with Yoo-Kyung Park, Head of Responsible Investment & Governance Asia-Pacific at APG
‘Some practices that we take for granted in Europe, are not so common in Asia. In Europe, for example, if you want to engage with a company, you can talk to senior management or even board members and you tend to get the information you need. To get this type of access in Asia, you need to invest a lot of time and effort to build trust. Only after several years will board members open to you. I have been engaging with Samsung Electronics on various corporate governance issues for eleven years. Although the company has made positive changes, I am still not done talking to them.’
How receptive are Asian companies to what you ask of them?
‘It depends on what you’re asking. If you want a company to improve its reporting, you can talk to the Investor Relations department, and there’s a good chance they will respond to your request. But if you want a company to change its corporate culture, or deal with bribery and corruption, it’s not that straightforward, especially if our holding in the company is relatively small. In such cases it’s not easy to get access. So you have to be resourceful and come up with other ways to gain influence. I then seek cooperation with other parties, such as politicians, diplomates, NGOs, or the media.’
How do you find a way to deal with more sensitive topics, such as human rights?
‘That also depends on the country. In Japan, you can talk about human rights, but in China you need to come up with less direct ways to address this. You have to make the topic about, for example, employees’ health & safety, or working conditions for migrant workers. You need to make it specific. And you always link it to the impact it can have on a company’s business. When I talked to Korean shipbuilders about fatal accidents in their operations, and did not get a satisfactory response, I alerted their clients, the large ship buyers, to this issue. They were concerned about safe working conditions and called on the shipbuilders to improve them. Several oil companies have now paid more attention to the safety standard for Korean shipbuilders.’