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Nishimatsu lawsuit (re World War II forced labour)

In 1998, five Chinese survivors of World War II brought legal action in Japan against Nishimatsu Construction, alleging the company used them as forced labour during the war. The Court dismissed the complaint in accordance with the 1972 China-Japan Joint Communiqué which renounced demands by the Chinese government for war reparations, however the Court expressed hope the company would provide some manner of compensation to the plaintiffs. Nishimatsu voluntarily entered into an out of court settlement, establshing a ¥250 million trust to compensate the workers.

Factual Background

Five Chinese survivors of World War II alleged that Nishimatsu Construction forcibly brought Chinese individuals to the Hiroshima Prefecture during World War II and used them as forced labour in order to construct the Yasuno power plant.  

Legal Argument

The five survivors filed private tort actions seeking an apology and compensation from Nishimatsu. The plaintiffs claimed that Nishimatsu breached its duty of care to its wokers by failing to maintain a safe working environment and by abducting the victims and forcing them to labour under harsh conditions. 

Legal Proceeding

In 1998, the five survivors brought legal action in Japan against Nishimatsu Construction. In 2002, these allegations were brought before the Hiroshima District Court, which dismissed the claims.  However, in 2004, the Hiroshima High Court reversed the District Court’s decision and ordered Nishimatsu to pay damages to the plaintiffs.  Nishimatsu filed an appeal with the Japanese Supreme Court, which the Court heard on 15 January 2007.  

On 24 April 2007, the Second Petty Bench of the Supreme Court issued the final judgment in the case.  The Supreme Court dismissed the claim and reversed the High Court’s decision, upholding the Hiroshima District Court decision.  The judgment by the Supreme Court was based on the 1972 China-Japan Joint Communiqué, which renounced demands by the Chinese Government for war reparations.  The Supreme Court, however, recognised that the defendant had benefitted from the construction of the power plant, which subjected Chinese victims to work in conditions that caused them mental and physical pain.  In an unusual move for the court, the Supreme Court expressed hope that the company would make efforts to provide the plaintiffs with some manner of compensation.  

Latest Update

In October 2009, Nishimatsu voluntarily entered into an out-of-court settlement.  It agreed to set up a trust fund of ¥250 million to compensate the Chinese workers (or their descendants).  The company issued an apology under the ‘Settlement Terms’ and has promised to erect a memorial at the site of the power plant.   

 

- “Forced Labor Redress in Japan and the United States”, Matthew Augustine, Stanford Asia-Pacific Research Center, 13 Nov 2009

- “Company changes tune over war labor”, Asahi Shimbun, 24 Oct 2009

- “Assessing the Nishimatsu corporate approach to redressing Chinese forced labor in wartime Japan”, Kang Jian, Arimitsu Ken & William Underwood, Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 23 Nov 2009

- “Japan’s top court poised to kill lawsuits by Chinese war victims”, William Underwood & Kian Jian, Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 2 Mar 2007

 

Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China, 29 Sep 1972

 

Judgment concerning Para. 5 of the Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China, and how to treat the claims of citizens of the People's Republic of China…arising in the course of prosecution of the Japan-China War, Second Petty Bench of the Supreme Court of Japan, 27 Apr 2007

- [PDF] Text of the Nishimatsu Settlement [in Japanese], 23 Oct 2009

 

five Chinese survivors of World War II brought legal action in Japan against Nishimatsu Construction.  The plaintiffs alleged that Nishimatsu forcibly brought Chinese individuals to the Hiroshima Prefecture during World War II and used them as forced labour in order to construct the Yasuno power plant.  The claims were private tort actions through which the plaintiffs sought an apology and compensation from Nishimatsu.  The plaintiffs claimed that Nishimatsu breached its duty of care to its wokers by failing to maintain a safe working environment and by abducting the victims and forcing them to labour under harsh conditions. 

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