In 2002, the cover picture of Time Magazine showed three women as its Persons of the year. They were chosen for their contribution to society because they provided information concerning illicit activities by their companies. One was from Enron, another was from World Com, and the other was from the FBI. Enron's whistle blower quoted from Martin Luther King Jr. saying that "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Today, I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the urgency to break silence about things that matter.
The term "whistleblower" has come to be often heard. It means a person who informs on someone engaged in illicit activities, and in most cases, this brings an end to these activities by informing the media. In this process, they must be protected from undue pressure from their companies. The government has started to take action to pass a law to protect whistleblowers. This law, which is going to be approved in the next ordinary Diet session, guarantees their being in the same position as before blowing the whistle, and it also guarantees compensation for damage in case of suffering a loss.
I'm sure that the law to protect whistle blowers should be a part of a law, which guarantees human rights. No wonder that this law will be welcomed by those who have a strong sense of justice. I've come to suspect that the law is not the best way to protect whistle blowers or to publicize dishonest activities, however. Here is a ridiculous example that may lead to a certain question. Actually there has been a law concerning nuclear reactors that protects whistleblowers who inform about illegal activities. This was established in the year 2000, and has only been used once. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, hid cracks in its nuclear power plants since 1987, a fact which was reported in July 2000 by an American employee of General Electric Company. For more than a decade, there had been a long silence in the Japanese company, which was only broken by an American.
"Silence is golden" remains in our minds from Japanese culture. Those who break silence are seen as traitors. This thinking is evident in the Japanese characteristic loyalty to companies. Although the current long term recession and a multitude of bankruptcies has made young people less loyal as you can see from their switching companies for higher paychecks --- we must admit that there is a deep-rooted tendency to cling to loyalty and not blow the whistle. Workers of the companies however are mothers and fathers who have to make a living for their children. When they come across obvious criminal behavior, they must certainly be tortured by their conscience. If they close their eyes to such behavior, we cannot blame them. Furthermore, I doubt if this law would be able to protect all whistle blowers from all the different occupations, in other words, I doubt if this law would be applicable to all cases. There are too many obstacles that will prevent this law from working as it should.
Above all, I believe there's a need to improve business ethics in Japanese companies. Hitachi Ltd. and Itochu Corporation have taken the initiative by forming committees which encourage workers to inform co-workers of criminal behavior. These committees are trying to prevent any injustices from becoming social problems by discovering and coping with problems in-house. In the case of Hitachi, for example, an anonymous tip was given along with great care to avoid leaks. There are not many aggressive companies like this but I hope that there will be many more who will act in this way.
Now then, why don't we recognize the value of companies like these? Actually, this will be for me a criterion in my hunt for a job. I reckon companies that try to acknowledge wrongdoing would be reputable. Recognition on our part would have serious social consequences. The higher we evaluate such companies, the less injustice there will be in our society. Let me ask you one question. Would you like to join Snow Brand Food Corporation? I guess we would have the same answers. Its irresponsible behavior resulted in a dramatic decrease in stock value. Once, a company loses its trust, it would be terribly hard to regain it. Our evaluation should be correct.
In 2002, a Japanese man who had blown the whistle was shown on a TV documentary program. His sense of justice had eventually triggered the collapse of his own company, since, ironically, his company was a subcontractor of Snow Brand Food Corporation, on which he blew the whistle. He concluded the documentary by saying, "Of course I thought of my family before blowing the whistle, but Snow Brand had done it again, even after doing harm to ten thousand people who drank its milk in the year 2000. I feel so sad, but I don't regret having uncovered illegal activity."