By: Victor Schultz
In the most recent installment of the critically acclaimed Japanese drama “Our huge corporations can make big mistakes, too”, we discovered that Kobe Steel falsified quality reports for perhaps an entire decade. This fascinating revelation made fans gasp in horror as multiple transport and construction workers scrambled to double check anything that used steel from the disgraced company.
Luckily, no cases of severe harm seem to have been discovered as of yet. This is, however, the most recent page in a dark chapter for big Japanese businesses. Motor manufacturers Nissan and Mitsubishi both faced stock-crippling scandals after it came to light that they were falsifying data in industry standards tests. A prominent airbag production company, Takata went bankrupt after faulty airbags never passed through proper quality checks and caused multiple injuries and deaths.
These examples underline a major problem for Japanese companies. Production managers are pressured to maximize profits, regardless of risk. Oftentimes, refusing to implement a bad policy can result in being fired for insubordination. And implementing the bad policy means risking accidents, which can result in being fired for incompetence. This catch-22 is a global problem, but is particularly potent in Japan, where company loyalty is a cultural expectation.
Big business is not inherently evil, but it does generate far more temptations to abuse both customers and employees. Increased regulations due to environmental and ethical concerns in recent years have cut into profit margins for companies. Rather than restructuring, many companies find it easier to cut corners or fudge numbers to meet new quotas. The bottom line seems to be this: if large companies can balance traditional structures with new demands, they seem doomed to collapse.