SEOUL – When asked to identify Samsung’s fiercest enemy, most people would name Apple, given ongoing patent lawsuits in various countries. But Samsung, the largest of South Korea’s chaebol (vast, politically connected, family-run conglomerates), has bigger problems at home. In the run-up to the December presidential election, the chaebol have become a target of growing popular anger.
The chaebol played a crucial role in transforming war-torn South Korea into a wealthy, dynamic economy in less than four decades, supporting the impoverished population in the name of economy-first politics. (The economic consequences of military-first politics, the alternative path taken by North Korea, have proved disastrous.) Some of the world’s most recognizable brands – such as Hyundai and LG – are chaebols.