Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Obayashi: Radiation Cleanup (2013)

Obayashi Corp. logo

On March 11th, 2011 a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off the northern coast of Japan triggered a tsunami that devastated the coastal region. The tsunami laid waste to several structures and one in particular that still holds national attention is the Fukushima Power Plant. The Fukushima Power Plant utilized nuclear energy to generate power, but the disaster disabled the power supply and cooling for three of its nuclear reactors which led to a meltdown. The meltdown resulted in a leakage of radiation which contaminated the surrounding lands and water, and called for a mandatory evacuation of the area.
In response to the issue with radiation, the Japanese government has been funding contractors to decontaminate the affected areas. One of the major contractors for the project is the Obayashi Corporation, the second largest construction company in Japan. Obayashi Corp was established in 1982 and has grown to a corporation that handles large-scale projects internationally. It was brought into the spotlight in 2012 when it had announced plans of building a space elevator, but some recent news related to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant clean-up may have soiled its reputation. The company, among other contractors, has received strong criticism after it had been recognized in December 2013 that it was exploiting homeless individuals’ willingness to work as a vice for an inexpensive work force in the hazardous clean-up. Regarding Obayashi Corp’s decision to target homeless individuals as an inexpensive work force, the issue will be discussed further from an ethical perspective and analyzed using four key theories in business ethics. Those theories are Individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Virtue Theory.

IndividualismThe theory of Individualism suggests that a company’s only concern should be maximizing profits in order to appease stakeholders, and doing so within the constraints of the law. Unfortunately, reports from Reuters News suggest that many of the actions occurring under Obayashi Corporation are unlawful. The homeless workers recruited are allegedly being paid $6.00 an hour, which is below the legal minimum wage of $6.50 an hour, and in other cases it is reported that the homeless workers are being stripped of all wages earned due to the company’s alleged ties to the infamous crime organization, Yakuza, who are taking the workers’ earnings. It is believed Yakuza initially involved itself as a recruitment agency because there is a $100 bonus paid to recruiters for every man they can enlist to the dangerous job of clearing radioactive waste, and so Yakuza went forward picking up homeless men from the streets of Japan. The clean-up process has been long and Obayashi has exhausted many of its men and resources, so from a financial standpoint being able to hire an army of laborers for below minimum wage is appealing, but it is in clear violation of the law and therefore in violation of the theory of Individualism.

Fukushima radiation cleanup
The next ethical theory that will be used to analyze the case is Utilitarianism. According to the theory a company must act and make decisions in such a way that will maximize happiness for the greatest group of people possible. Whether Obayashi Corporation fulfills the beliefs associated with Utilitarianism is up for debate. In the short term, all could agree that a rapid cleanup of the harmful waste is desired to relieve some of the tension felt throughout Japan, and with that a strong work force is necessary; being able to supply revenue to a jobless group of people is an additional bonus. On the other hand, only the future can tell whether the few paychecks collected were worth the associated health risks endured by workers. In any case, the clean-up is a project that needs to be done and it is easier to argue that Obayashi Corporation did in fact follow the theory of Utilitarianism. To summarize with some supporting points, first hiring homeless men when there is a shortage of workers allows the company to progress with the project, secondly it costs the company less money than hiring workers at the standard wage, and third jobless citizens have the opportunity to earn some income which ideally results in overall satisfaction.

The third ethical theory being used to assess the case is Kantianism. The basic principle of Kantianism is to make rational decisions that are solely motivated by good will while treating others as equals and allowing them to make their own informed decisions. The Obayashi Corporation is certainly in violation of this ethical theory because they are exploiting the homeless’ willingness to work. Many of the homeless that are recruited are not made aware of the health risks associated and they are being treated unequally which is evident in their low hourly wage. It is unlikely that Obayashi Corp’s decision to employ homeless men was motivated by good will, but more likely the result of trying to meet deadlines as quickly and inexpensive as possible.

Virtue TheoryThe Final ethical theory that will be used for analysis is Virtue Theory. Virtue Theory is a character based theory that looks at virtues such as courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. When it comes to courage, Obayashi Corporation can be given credit for taking on such a significant project, but their methods for accomplishing the project go against the law and with that, justice. As previously mentioned when discussing Kantianism, there was deceit involved when hiring the homeless men who were not aware of the work conditions. Given the material they are expected to handle, this infraction is major because any exposure to the radioactive waste can lead to long-term negative effects on their health. This clearly goes against the company's honesty but it also shows they have little self-control (or ability to withstand pressure from the Japanese government) because they chose to pursue inexpensive labor versus working with what they have and minimizing exposure to workers. Overall Obayashi Corp is in violation of Virtue Theory.

There is an overwhelming pressure on Japan to resolve the issue of radiation brought on by the damaged Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. This has caused them to turn their cheek while contractors such as the Obayashi Corporation violate laws in order to accomplish the daunting project. Obayashi Corporation’s actions are in clear violation of most business ethics, but only time will tell whether they have affected the lives of homeless for the better or worse.

Saito, Mari. " Special Report: Japan's homeless recruited for murky Fukushima clean-up." Reuters. 30 Dec 2013. Web. 1 Apr 2014. <www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/30/us-fukushima-workers-idUSBRE9BT00520131230>.

"Fukushima Accident." World Nuclear Association. 31 Mar 2014. Web. 1 Apr 2014. <http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/fukushima-accident/>.

Meredith, Charlotte. "The Huffington Post." The Huffington Post. 30 Dec 2013. Web. 1 Apr 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/japan-earthquake/>.

Feldman, Brian. "Homeless People Are Being Recruited to Help with the Fukushima Cleanup." The Wire. 30 Dec 2013. Web. 1 Apr 2014. <http://www.thewire.com/global/2013/12/homeless-people-are-being-recruited-help-fukushima-cleanup/356558/>.

Pentland, William. "Yakuza Gangsters Recruit Homeless Men For Fukushima Nuclear Clean Up." Forbes. N.p., 30 Dec 2013. Web. 1 Apr 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2013/12/30/yakuza-gangsters-recruit-homeless-men-for-fukushima-nuclear-clean-up/>.

"Obayashi Global." Obayashi Corporation Global Site. Web. 1 Apr 2014. <https://www.obayashi.co.jp/english/>.

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