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Company Gives NK Workers Crash Course in Quality

Posted September. 26, 2009 07:51,   


“What part of this product is wrong? It looks perfect.”

“See this scratch? South Koreans don’t buy this kind of product.”

“Are you sure? It looks OK.”


In summer last year, South Korean workers dispatched by Sunglim Jeonggong struggled to teach North Korean workers at the Kaesong industrial complex.

A maker of lids for edible oil bottles for CJ Cheiljedang, Sunglim set up a plant in the complex in April last year. The company concluded that Kaesong was a great choice over China because of lower logistics and labor costs. The wages of North Korean workers were equivalent to 5 percent of that in South Korea and both sides spoke the same language.

Unexpectedly, however, Sunglim bumped into a serious problem. North Korean workers were producing more than 600 defective products per month.

Sunglim manager Lee Je-pyo said, “They were unaccustomed to the concepts of quality or consumers. North Korean workers saw no problems in products that would be considered defective by South Koreans.”

The company then started a campaign to help its North Korean staff get a better understanding of quality. Sunglim President Ok Jun-seok headed for the industrial park and began teaching North Korean workers in July last year.

Whenever a defective product was detected, he displayed it and explained why it was dubbed defective in a “showcase of defective goods.” In a few months, the showcase was stocked with about 100 kinds of defective products, to the shock of the company’s 88 North Korean workers.

After reaching a consensus on defects, Sunglim consulted with the (South) Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry on quality innovation to provide education on quality for North Korean workers. The effects of the education soon appeared.

North Korean workers began voluntarily pointing out problems at their workplaces. The education enabled them to detect signs of malfunctioning equipment and worn parts.

Since then, the number of defective products has significantly decreased. Over the past six months, just one or two defective items per million products were produced, a result far better than the quality standards of the chamber and the Small and Medium Business Administration, which suggest less than 10 defective products should be produced per million products.

On Sept. 25, Sunglim became the first company in the Kaesong complex to receive the single PPM quality certification by the two South Korean business associations.

Choi Gyu-jong, head of the chamber’s quality innovation team, said, “Only 1,600 South Korean companies have won this certification, and it usually takes around two or three years for them to get it. But the North Korean workers of Sunglim won the certification in just a year.”

Sunglim President Ok said, “The result came through the close cooperation of workers from the two Koreas. I’ll strive to improve the working environment. For example, I’ll expand our plant at the complex and provide shuttle buses for workers.”