It’s a familiar sight on the TV news in Japan. Four somber looking men are seated at a flimsy foldout table in the front of a non-descript conference room bathed in fluorescent light. The culprits—for these men look guilty of something—issue a statement and answer questions. And at some point they all stand up. The ringleader offers an apology in the most formal and sincere-sounding language he can muster (without admitting direct responsibility). He finishes, which is the cue for the others to join him in a deep, 45-degree bow. The camera shutters click and flashes ricochet off the men’s scalps as they stoically hold that bow, for several seconds. And then, with impeccable timing, the heads lift up again, simultaneously, leaving the viewer to wonder if they had practiced before the press conference.
Yes, it’s the latest corporate scandal.
The “bad apple” this week, falling from a capitalist tree that produces some very strange fruit, is a meat-processing company with the wonderful, made-in-Japan English name: Meat Hope, Co. Its meat-headed president, Minoru Tanaka, could hardly have known how apt that name would prove to be. It turns out that customers who had purchased products from the company over the years did not exactly receive the meat they had hoped for. Customers who purchased “100% ground beef” ended up with cheaper ground pork mixed in. If that were the extent of Meat Hope’s crimes, it would be no big deal as far as corporate scandals go in Japan or elsewhere. But the cost cutting of Tanaka—who ironically looks and acts like a cross between a bull and a hog himself—did not stop there. He mislabeled imported meat as domestic meat, altered expiration dates on products, improved the color of the mislabeled ground beef by adding cattle hearts, etc., etc. And his company has been cheating the public in this way for over two decades.
The first reaction of Tanaka, before the ritual bowing, was clear anger at the misfortune of being caught. He even lashed out at consumers for wanting cheaper and cheaper products. In a way, the poor guy has a point. His company was only acting as market competition dictates. Cut costs so you can undersell your rivals and still pocket a respectable profit. It is safe to say that there are dozens of other meat-processing companies out there, guilty of the same crimes, desperate to avoid the fate of Meat Hope. Tanaka just happened to be the unlucky cockroach on the kitchen table when the light was switched on.
These corporate scandals have revealed some very unsavory characters at the “top” of society. The company presidents, who almost always have a photo of themselves shaking hands with the latest Prime Minister, find it hard to conceal their own arrogance, as it reflects a lifetime of barking orders at their lackeys. In a scandal last year in the construction industry, for example, the president of a company named Huser (which stands for “Human User”!), Susumu Ojima, came out swinging at first, admitting nothing. He came across as a violent thug who was still in shock at being caught. So the public must find it gratifying to see these assholes humbled, even if it is just an act, and forced to apologize. President Ojima, for his part, suddenly underwent a total makeover, presenting himself as a nice guy, with a new haircut, glasses, and Buddhist prayer beads.
It is certainly fun to savor the misery of these miserable people, but at the same time the scandals almost invariably expose corruption in every corner of the industry involved. In that construction scandal last year, everyone—from the architect and builders to the sales agent and building inspectors—were in on the scam of constructing flimsy apartment buildings and hotels. The initial scandal opened the lid ever so slightly on that industry and the public was sickened by the stench that seeped out.
How much more proof do they need that the capitalist system of production for profit leads to no good? How many more times do I have to watch these wretched men bowing on my television screen?
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