Scandal-hit Kobe Steel has a “look the other way” culture, hometown residents say

Kobe Steel remains one of only two Kobe-based companies, along with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, that have revenues over ¥1 trillion a year. (Reuters)
Updated 05 November 2017
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Scandal-hit Kobe Steel has a “look the other way” culture, hometown residents say

KOBE, Japan: The fresh university graduate, eager to make a good impression on the job at one of Kobe Steel’s main plants in Japan, punched the wrong measurements into machines making steel pipes, causing a large batch to come out too short.
“I thought I was going to be fired,” recalled the former employee nearly 40 years later. But Shinzo Abe, now Japan’s prime minister, stayed on the job at Japan’s third-largest steelmaker for three years before entering politics in 1982.
Abe has called the steel industry the backbone of the nation. Kobe Steel, a 112-year-old company in south-central Japan’s Hyogo prefecture, has risen from wartime devastation and natural disaster but its past is littered with examples of corporate misconduct.
Its admission last month that workers had tampered with product specifications for at least a decade is the latest in a string of scandals that has battered Japan’s reputation as a manufacturing powerhouse.
Clients around the world, including top carmakers and airplane manufacturers, have been scrambling to check whether the safety or performance of their products have been compromised.
Workers, executives and shopowners in Kobe, a gritty, industrial city bordered by sloping hills where cattle are bred for the famed Kobe beef, said they were concerned but not surprised by the scandal.
Kobe Steel, which has apologized for the tampering, declined comment for this article.
“The corporate culture was to look the other way even while you saw what was going on,” said a retired employee who worked at the company’s flagship steel plant, Kobe Works — a symbol of the city’s quick recovery from a 1995 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people. The company’s other main plant in the area is Kakogawa Works, in the nearby city of Kakogawa.
“They were supposed to be instilling a culture that paid attention when improprieties were discovered,” the former employee said. “In the end they didn’t create such a corporate culture. That’s management’s responsibility.”
The company initially said some workers had falsified data on contract specifications for a relatively small amount of aluminum and copper products, but it later admitted the problem had spread.
In 2006, Kobe Steel admitted falsifying soot-emissions data from the blast furnaces at Kobe Works and Kakogawa Works.
The latest scandal reflects “exactly the same set-up,” said Shoichi Tarumoto, who was then mayor of Kakogawa. “It looks like nothing has changed at Kobe Steel.”
Kobe Steel has admitted taking part in bid-rigging for a bridge project in 2005, and failing to report income to tax authorities in 2008, 2011 and 2013. The company exceeded established limits for ground and water pollution in 2006.
Illegal political funding to candidates in local assembly elections in 2009 prompted the resignations of the then CEO and chairman. And last year Kobe Steel admitted a subsidiary falsified data on stainless-steel products.
A senior official in local government who has dealt with the company for years said: “Kobe Steel always scouts the backstreets for shortcuts. That’s their nature.”
Although its local dominance has waned, Kobe Steel remains one of only two Kobe-based companies, along with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, that have revenues over ¥1 trillion a year. The Kakogawa Works is that city’s biggest company, vital as a local taxpayer and employer.
More than a third of the Kobe Steel group’s 6,123 domestic customers are concentrated in Hyogo or neighboring Osaka, according to credit-research firm Teikoku Databank. More than half its customers are small and midsize Japanese companies.
The other clients are spread around the world and include top automobile manufacturers, airplane makers, railways and nearly any industry that uses steel, aluminum or copper in any form.
No safety issues have been found so far because of the tampering, but Kobe Steel has withdrawn its forecast for its first annual profit in three years. Whatever the eventual economic impact, the scandal is already affecting morale in Kobe city.
“If Kobe Steel suffers a blow, this is the area that will be most affected,” said Tsuyoshi Matsuda of Teikoku Databank’s Kobe office.
Kobe Steel acknowledges some customers have shifted orders to other suppliers. Major banks are instructing their Kobe area branches to keep close watch on the credit management at companies that do business with the steelmaker, bankers say.


Major projects, investments worth over $685bn unveiled on Saudi National Day

A photo taken on July 5, 2018, shows Bader al-Ajmi, 38,(L) owner of "One Way Burger" serving customers from his truck at a main street in the capital Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 5 min 50 sec ago
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Major projects, investments worth over $685bn unveiled on Saudi National Day

  • The private sector’s contribution to the GDP at constant prices doubled to around SR1236.6 million in 2017

JEDDAH: A major economic boost in the form of 10 major projects and investments exceeding SR685 billion ($183 billion) were unveiled as celebrations of the 88th Saudi National Day got under way.
The Council of Saudi Chambers released a report focusing on great economic achievements in 2017.
These projects reflect the Kingdom’s vision under the wise leadership of King Salman and that of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to provide a brighter future through diversifying sources of national income, tackling environmental challenges and increasing investment and prosperity.
The report summarized the most important events and economic developments in the Kingdom over the past year. These include the lifting of the ban on women driving in June, and the establishment of the General Authority for Cyber Security, in addition to the numerous royal decrees providing financial support to Saudis.
It also noted the important decisions related to the Saudi business sector. These include the launch of a private sector incentive program with a value of SR72 billion, the privatization of 10 government sectors and the establishment of the General Authority for Real Estate. The private sector is still showing a strong performance as an efficient partner in the inclusive development process and in the achievement of the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision, the report noted, as it contributes 39 percent to the Saudi gross domestic product (GDP).
The private sector’s contribution to the GDP at constant prices doubled to around SR1236.6 million in 2017. There has been increased contribution to GDP from non-oil private sector streams.
The private sector also witnessed an increase in the number of workers, in its capital, in the number of shares on the Saudi market, in the cumulative number of establishments operating in the Kingdom, and in non-oil exports.
Continued growth of the private sector was attributed by the report to the Saudi government’s support. This support comes through initiatives such as the removal of obstacles to financial development, improvements to the working environment and policies adopted to boost investment.
It also reviewed the private sector’s efforts to support diversification of the economy and lower unemployment rates.
The importance of the measures taken to prioritize the employment of qualified Saudi workers over the employment of expatriates in the private sector were stressed, as well as the sector’s role in providing education and health services.