Five former and present employees of Kia Motors have been indicted for
selling car manufacturing technologies to China. Since November last
year, the five allegedly delivered 57 corporate secrets, including the
technology to assemble the Kia SUV Sorento and plans for new models, to
a local consulting firm established by some of Kia's former workers.
The National Intelligence Service said among the leaked corporate
secrets, files on welding, assembly and quality control were handed
over to a Chinese automaker.
Kia says if all of the leaked technology had been handed over to
China, the technological gap between Korean and Chinese carmakers,
currently five to seven years, would narrow to 1.5 years by 2010. If
that happens, Korean companies stand to lose sales of up to 300,000
vehicles in the Chinese market.
The number of corporate secret leaks detected by the National
Intelligence Service has risen each year, from six in 2003 to 31 in
2006. The involved areas are also growing more diverse, from the
information technology industry such as cellular phones and
semiconductor chips to automobiles and shipbuilding. It just shows how
Chinese companies are hungry for new technology.
The reason Korean companies are being targeted by industrial
spies is because, although they do not possess the core technology,
their ability to commercialize such technology is among the best in the
world. But Korean companies are extremely lax when it comes to treating
corporate secrets. They have yet to get serious about compensating
inventions by their workers, how to manage such employees after
retirement and other ways to handle its R&D staff, as well as
investing in security systems.
Looking at the Kia Motors incident, workers who were sacked
for taking bribes were able to freely enter the company¡¯s offices with
the help of their former colleagues. The company had a very lax system
of access to secret corporate information. Corporate discipline failed
and the company was unable to manage its employees and their work. Last
year, Kia posted a W125.3 billion (US$1=W925) operating loss, but its
labor union threatened to strike demanding a bonus. And in a workplace
where such threats are effective, employees cannot have a proper sense
of corporate ownership. From that perspective, the leak of Kia¡¯s
corporate secrets should be viewed as problems with the company¡¯s human
resources, labor relations and management practices.