Nishimatsu lawsuit (re World War II forced labour)

Nishimatsu victims China Daily credit - ReutersIn 1998, 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. 

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.  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

 

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Article
23 October 2009

Assessing the Nishimatsu Corporate Approach to Redressing Chinese Forced Labor in Wartime Japan

Author: Kang Jian, Arimitsu Ken & William Underwood, Asia Pacific Journal

[I]n October 2009…Nishimatsu Construction…voluntarily agree[d] to compensate Chinese victims of wartime forced labor in Japan after resisting the redress claim for more than a decade…Nishimatsu…set up a trust fund of 250 million yen, or $2.5 million…to compensate the 360 Chinese men who were forcibly taken to Hiroshima Prefecture in 1944 to build a hydroelectric power plant at Nishimatsu’s Yasuno worksite - or their families...Nishimatsu apologized as well…[T]he Nishimatsu settlement has important implications for the 20 or so other still-operating Japanese firms that likewise badly mistreated Chinese workers in Japan, profited from their uncompensated forced labor, and now enjoy legal immunity as a result of [a] Japan Supreme Court ruling…Mitsubishi…which earlier…aggressively defended itself …has expressed willingness to settle claims stemming from Chinese forced labor [also refers to Aso Mining, Mitsui, Kajima, Nihon Yakin]

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Article
23 October 2009

Japan's construction firm pays $2.74 mln to wartime Chinese laborers

Author: Xinhua

Nishimatsu Construction secured a reconciliation Friday with wartime Chinese laborers, agreeing to pay 250 million yen (2.74 million U.S. dollars) to the war victims. According the reconciliation agreement…Nishimatsu, which offered the reconciliation talks in April, issues an apology to the laborers and pledges to build a memorial for them. In April 2007, Japan's Supreme Court turned down the damage lawsuit filed by former Chinese laborers…The top court ruled that Chinese individuals have no right to judicially claim war reparations from Japan because China has given up the right under the Japan-China Joint Statement signed in 1972…

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Article
13 November 2009

Forced Labor Redress in Japan and the United States

Author: Matthew Augustine, Stanford Asia-Pacific Research Center

[O]n October 23, the Nishimatsu Construction Company reached an agreement…to set up a trust fund for Chinese who had been forced into labor in Japan during World War II…worth ¥250 million…Under the terms of the summary settlement, Nishimatsu acknowledged that these Chinese workers were forcibly brought to Japan and apologized for their suffering.This outcome was both overdue and unexpected, particularly since Japan's Supreme Court in 2007 rejected the original lawsuit that five Chinese plaintiffs brought against the construction company in 1998. Nishimatsu officials maintain that they want to set a new precedent for "social responsibility"…

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Article
12 May 2010

[PDF] Post war reparations between Japan and China and individual claims: The Supreme Court Judgments in the Nishimatsu Construction case and the second Chinese ‘Comfort Women case

Author: Masahiko Asada and Trevor Ryan, Journal of Japanese Law (Zeitschrift fuer Japanisches Recht)

On 27 April 2007, the Supreme Court of Japan delivered two judgments of historic significance
regarding post-war reparations...[One] concerned China: the Nishimatsu Construction Case…The Nishimatsu Construction Case concerned forced relocation to Japan of Chinese nationals and forced labor during World War II…The victims argued to the Court that Nishimatsu had breached its duty of care and safety by subjecting them to forced labor under such harsh conditions…Nishimatsu argued that there had been no forced relocation or forced labor, and there existed no contract of employment or corresponding legal relationship forming the basis of a duty of safety and care…

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