Insider

South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang just had a record-breaking IPO, but its delivery workers keep dying

Summary List PlacementAs South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang — which is often dubbed the "Amazon of Korea" — reaps healthy profits from its flashy, record-breaking debut on the New York Stock Exchange, another of its couriers has been found dead.  This is the second death of a Coupang courier in...

Coupang truck

Summary List Placement

As South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang — which is often dubbed the “Amazon of Korea” — reaps healthy profits from its flashy, record-breaking debut on the New York Stock Exchange, another of its couriers has been found dead. 

This is the second death of a Coupang courier in less than a month. 

According to the Yonhap News Agency, the 43-year-old Coupang courier, whose identity was withheld, was found unconscious in an Incheon residential building around 30 minutes from the Seoul city center on Wednesday afternoon. 

The Korea Herald reported that the man had collapsed 150 feet from his delivery truck. He was pronounced dead en-route to the hospital.

In a statement to Yonhap News, Coupang said that the courier was in the process of going through a “thorough medical check-up after showing heart-related abnormalities in his initial medical examination.”

“The deceased employee began his parcel delivery duty after entering Coupang and completing a weeklong training. In general, new employees are assigned less delivery volume than other employees,” the company told Yonhap. 

Coupang also told Insider that the deceased had only been on the job for two days. 

“Since the deceased joined the company, it was only his second day doing delivery work,” a Coupang spokesman said.

“We express our deepest condolences and sympathy to the deceased and the bereaved family. The Company will actively cooperate in the processes of determining the cause of death, and will spare no effort in providing all supports to relieve the pain of the bereaved families,” the spokesman added. 

The 43-year-old courier’s cause of death is currently under investigation. Yonhap reported as well that the Korean police are in the process of questioning Coupang staff, among other parties, while forensic evidence is being collected. 

He is the second Coupang courier to die this month

Insider earlier reported on the death of a parcel delivery worker in Seoul who a South Korean labor union said died from apparent overwork.

According to South Korean news agency Yonhap News, the 48-year-old man, known as Lee, was found dead two weeks ago in his ‘gosiwon,’ a cheap rental room in Seoul, on the weekend of March 6. 

Representatives from the Taekbae Union labor group, which represents couriers, said that Lee had “often spoken to his wife about the difficulties of late-night work.” 

At the time of Lee’s death, eight of Coupang’s employees had died from what labor unions say are causes related to overwork.

This latest fatality will also bring the total tally of delivery worker fatalities in South Korea during the global COVID-19 pandemic to 18 – a worrying trend that highlights continuing problems with the delivery economy and the punishing hours that couriers work to handle an overwhelming surge in package deliveries.

‘Kwarosa,’ a Korean term referring to sudden death that is often due to heart failure or a stroke as a result of arduous work, is not a new concept in South Korea.

The bulk of South Korea’s 54,000 delivery workers are hired as sub-contractors and classified as self-employed, which means they’re often denied the basic benefits that regular, fully-contracted employees would be entitled to, such as caps on weekly working hours.

This loophole, unions say, has resulted in workers being forced to pull long shifts without earning minimum wage nor being paid for working overtime.  

In November of last year, the BBC reported that disgruntled and exhausted South Korean delivery riders poured out into the streets as part of a union march, protesting the deaths of 14 delivery drivers who had died from causes related to overwork. 

A record-breaking IPO

Coupang HQ in Seoul

It seems to be business as usual, however at Coupang, which netted a record-breaking $4.6 billion IPO, with its shares jumping as high as 84% in its New York Stock Exchange debut on March 11. 

“This is one of the largest — if not, this is certainly the largest capital raised by a tech company out of Korea,” Bom Kim, Coupang’s CEO, told Insider before the company’s shares began trading.

“And what it means is, now we have the ability to continue to make really, really big investments.”

Coupang was founded in 2010 by Harvard dropout Kim, and in the last decade, it has become the country’s biggest e-commerce platform. It is now known as the “Amazon of South Korea,” particularly after the company built a network of distribution centers that put 70% of the country’s population within a seven-mile radius.

Insider’s Candy Cheng reported that the company was forging a relentless path to change South Koreans’ way of thinking about delivery, with “uniquely Coupang features.”

These include dawn-to-dusk delivery, a smooth return process, and zero-waste packaging. Food delivery services (akin to DoorDash) and same-day grocery deliveries are also part of its offerings. 

“Our mission is to create a world where customers wonder, ‘How did I ever live without Coupang?'” Kim said. 

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