Mitsubishi makes US POW apology: Will other firms follow suit?

This will "almost certainly have implications for other Japanese corporations," says leading Asia reputation expert.

Yukio Okamoto, outside board member of Mitsubishi Materials and Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer Mitsubishi Materials, offer an apology to 94-year-old US prisoner of war, James Murphy.
Yukio Okamoto, outside board member of Mitsubishi Materials and Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer Mitsubishi Materials, offer an apology to 94-year-old US prisoner of war, James Murphy.

Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, the Mitsubishi Corporation in Japan has issued a formal apology for the firm's use of US prisoners of war as forced labour in its mines.

The apology was made to one of the few remaining surviviors, James Murphy, at the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the center whose primary focus in the past has been Holocaust education, told The Associated Press that the move was unprecedented.

"As far as I know, this is a piece of history. It's the first time a major Japanese company has ever made such a gesture. We hope this will spur other companies to join in and do the same."

Mitsubishi Materials Corp. senior executive Hikaru Kimura expressed remorse that prisoners had been put to work in mines operated by the firm.

Murphy, 94, said: "I listened very carefully to Mr Kimura's statement of apology and found it very very sincere, humble and revealing," he added.

"We hope that we can go ahead now and have a better understanding , a better friendship and closer ties with our ally, Japan."

The mines operated at four locations run by Mitsubishi's predecessor company, Mitsubishi Mining Co.

Mitsubishi's apology came independently of the Japanese government, which apologized in 2009.

Other major Japanese companies involved in war-time forced labour are now coming under pressure to follow suit, while POW's in the UK are urging Mitsubishi to extend the apology to British servicemen.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Nippon Steel, Showa Denko K.K and Mitsui are among around 40 Japanese companies accused of using forced labour at shipyards and mines.

Ruder Finn's SVP of reputation management in Asia Charles Lankester said Mitsubishi's apology would have a knock-on efect for other companies.

"This is a major development which will almost certainly have implications for other Japanese corporations," he told PRWeek.

"Personally, I always hold situations similar to Mitsubishi's up to the light of 'what's the right thing to do'. It's simple to say, but extremely complex in reality. I would imagine Mitsubishi thought long and hard about this decision, ultimately deciding it was the right thing to do - most importantly for the former prisoners but also for the corporation.

"The language used is very direct and human; today Mitsubishi's representative Mr Kimura apologised 'remorsefully for the tragic events in our past'. Perhaps validation of Mitsubishi's decision, and from the 'right thing to do' perspective, came from Mr Murphy when he said: 'This happens to be the first time that we've heard those words and they really touch you at the heart. This is a glorious day. For 70 years we wanted this'."

Burson-Marsteller Asia CEO Margaret Key told PRWeek other apologies would be "well received". She added: "The apology made by Mitsubishi appears very sincere. If companies come forward with similar apologies, the expression must be genuine."

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