Chinese wartime slave laborers win payout

Nippon Yakin Kogyo coughs up 21 million yen for 14-hour days in nickel factory

Kyodo

A group of Chinese abducted to Japan during World War II to work as slave laborers and their surviving family members reached a compensation settlement Wednesday with a Japanese stainless steel producer.

Tokyo-based Nippon Yakin Kogyo Co. paid 21 million yen for the settlement at the Osaka High Court.

However, the plaintiffs will continue their suit against the Japanese government, which has claimed the statute of limitations for compensation has expired.

In December, the high court recommended a settlement among the three parties. The government refused to enter settlement talks.

Liu Zonggen, 72, three other former laborers and the family of two deceased men filed the suit in 1998, seeking a total 130 million yen in compensation and an apology from both the government and Nippon Yakin Kogyo.

“It is significant we were able to reach a settlement while the state and other companies remain reluctant to solve war-related compensation lawsuits,” said one of the lawyers working for the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs expressed appreciation in the settlement for the “sincerity” of Nippon Yakin Kogyo, even though the company refused to offer an apology and said it expects the payout will lead to “full settlement of the alleged forced labor dispute.”

Supporters of the plaintiffs said they hope the settlement will have a positive influence on other pending legal battles over the responsibility of Japan and Japanese companies over wartime slave labor.

The Kyoto District Court ruled in January 2003 that the government and Nippon Yakin Kogyo had acted illegally in abducting the plaintiffs to Japan and putting them to work as slave laborers.

But the court rejected the plaintiffs’ demand for compensation, saying their right to claim compensation had expired under a 20-year statute of limitations. The plaintiffs appealed the ruling.

The plaintiffs say they were forced to work at the company’s nickel factory in Kaya, Kyoto Prefecture, after being snatched by pro-Japanese Chinese soldiers while working in the fields of Henan Province in 1944 before being taken to Japan.

In Japan, they were forced to work 14-hour days and were beaten if they did not meet their quotas.

Slave laborers there received no wages and were given measly food and only thin blankets, even in winter, according to their claims.

Among the 200 people forcibly taken to the factory, 12 died from lack of proper care, they said.

Wednesday’s settlement was the second case involving a Japanese company and wartime slave laborers from China. In 2000, major construction firm Kajima Corp. settled its dispute with Chinese people taken to a mine in Akita Prefecture for slave labor during World War II by contributing 500 million yen to a relief fund for the victims.