Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University in Seoul, and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), a joint center of the Columbia Law School and the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, are releasing the results of their survey of Korean multinationals today. The survey, conducted during 2014, is part of a long-term study of the rapid global expansion of multinational enterprises (MNEs) from emerging markets. The research for this report was conducted in 2014 and covers the period from 2011 to 2013.

In 2013, the top 20 Korean multinationals, ranked by their foreign assets (See Table 1), jointly held US$68.9 billion assets abroad.3 Most firms were subsidiaries of Korea’s eight leading business groups (or chaebols), including Samsung, POSCO, LG, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hyundai-Kia Motors, SK, Lotte, and Hyosung Group. Five out of the 20 multinationals were also included in UNCTAD’s “Top 100 non-financial TNCs from developing and transition economies” in 2012.4 The average age of the top 20 firms is about 47 years, which is two times the average age of Korea’s top 1,000 firms (ranked in terms of total assets).

There is a high concentration by the top players in the list in terms of foreign assets. Among the top 20 companies, Samsung Electronics, POSCO, and Hyundai Motor Company ranked in the top three in that order. There was a significant difference between first and second place, with the foreign assets of Samsung Electronics more than doubling that of POSCO. Furthermore, the top five firms together accounted for more than 60% of the foreign assets of the top 20.

In 2013, the top 20 had US$340 billion in foreign sales (including exports) and 937 foreign affiliates. In terms of employment, 14 of the 20 firms together had 375,517 foreign employees (See Annex Table 1 and Tables 1a, 1b, and 1c for details).

The list of top 20 firms includes two state-controlled firms, Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), with more than 50% of their shares owned by the government. The remaining firms are all non-state-owned.

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