SEJONG-- The head of South Korea's antitrust watchdog urged local business heavyweights Thursday to put more effort into achieving fair competition and coexistence with smaller companies and regaining public confidence.

"I know our businesses have tried to make changes and helped smaller companies share the fruit (of our success)," Fair Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Kim Sang-jo said before talks with leaders of the five top conglomerates. "But from ordinary people's point of view, there is still a long way to go."

The members of the roundtable talks were Lee Sang-hoon, president of Samsung Electronics Co.; Chung Jin-hang, president of Hyundai Motor Co.; Park Jung-ho, president of SK Telecom Co.; Ha Hyun-hwoi, president of LG Corp.; and Hwang Kag-gyu, president of Lotte Corp.

It was the second meeting between the FTC chief and business leaders since June, when Kim asked them to carry out voluntary reform and have their achievements trickle down to second-tier businesses and employees.

Also, the FTC chief called for further efforts to change their cobweb-like family-run governance structure and make their decision-making process more transparent.

"The FTC will not focus on imposing sanctions on business groups. We will help the private sector establish effective business governance and fair market competition," the official said.

At the same time, he said the FTC will launch an all-out probe into charity foundations set up by the conglomerates.

Charity foundations, originally aimed at promoting public interest as part of companies' outreach programs, have been considered a tool for chaebol owners to maintain control over their business groups through the controversial cross-shareholding structure.

According to industry data, charity foundations of the top 20 business groups held a combined stake of their listed affiliates worth 6.7 trillion won (US$6 billion) as of June.

Three foundations of the largest Samsung Group -- the Samsung Foundation of Culture, the Samsung Welfare Foundation and the Samsung Life Public Welfare Foundation -- owned some 3 trillion won worth of stocks in key affiliates including Samsung Electronics Co. and Samsung C and T Corp.

A stake worth a combined 393.4 billion won in Hyundai Glovis Co. and Innocean Worldwide Inc. is held by the Hyundai Motor Chung Mong-koo Foundation, named after the automotive group's chairman.

Source: Yonhap News Agency