Experts urge caution after hostage crisis

by

Staff Writer

Japanese companies are apparently keeping calm following the Islamic State hostage crisis that resulted in the brutal murder of two nationals, but crisis management experts say businesses should nonetheless take this opportunity to review how prepared they are for such potential dangers.

Companies contacted by The Japan Times said they alerted their overseas employees about the threat posed by the Islamic State, which recently threatened to target Japanese citizens. But these companies say they have not implemented measures specifically to address the potential danger posed to their employees by the militants.

Energy giant JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp., which develops oil, gas and other mineral resources, issued a notice to overseas workers alerting them of the threat, said a spokesman, as part of routine procedures in similar circumstances.

“We usually take measures against the crisis like the latest incident, and this time we just alerted” employees, the spokesman said. He emphasized that the firm, which has operations in 14 countries, routinely collects information on local risks and alerts employees, using an external crisis management consultancy.

Sunday morning, Japan was shaken by a video posted online that showed a Japanese hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, was beheaded. In the video, the presumed executioner also threatened that the militant group would target other Japanese nationals. Earlier, the group posted a video online showing that another Japanese, self-styled security contractor Haruna Yukawa, had also been beheaded.

Despite the alarming incidents, experts and industry sources say the situation facing journalists and security contractors in conflict zones — who are often fully aware of potential risks — is fundamentally different from that faced by employees of Japan’s large corporations, which have long-established overseas operations.

Leading electronics-maker Toshiba Corp. also issued a notice alerting employees of the potential risk posed by the terrorists, including kidnapping, threats and attacks, after the Foreign Ministry issued an advisory on the matter, company spokesman Tatsuro Oishi said.

Noting that the company does not have operations in Iraq or Syria, and is not planning to implement measures specifically in reaction to the latest hostage crisis, Oishi nonetheless said the company is constantly on alert for risks posed by terrorists.

Japan Airlines Co. spokesman Takuya Shimoguchi also says counterterrorism preparedness is an important part of the flagship carrier’s crisis management, particularly when it comes to training management.

Kosuke Nakazawa, editor-in-chief of Tokyo-based crisis management website Risk-taisaku.com, points out that companies should be aware that Japan has long been a target of terrorists, with many examples of Japanese being taken hostage, attacked or threatened by terrorists over the years.

As a recent example, Nakazawa points to the high-profile 2013 incident in Algeria, in which 10 Japanese, mainly employees or related workers of engineering firm JGC Corp., were killed in a natural gas processing plant after they were taken hostage by al-Qaida-linked terrorists.

“If they (Japanese businesses) realized the potential risk after the latest incident, I think they are 10 years behind the times,” said Nakazawa. “And I think Japanese people need to have a keener sense of danger.”

Shiro Kawamoto, a senior analyst at the Council for Public Policy, says Japanese companies, first and foremost, should remind overseas workers by alerting them about what has taken place, if only to remind them of potential risks.

“They (assignees) should be made aware that threats of terrorist attacks are now real,” he said.

Toshiro Kojima, a 35-year crisis-management veteran formerly at electronics giant Hitachi Ltd., said Japanese companies are not alert enough against dangers posed by terrorists.

Noting “only 10 percent at most” of listed companies have necessary awareness, Kojima says companies should once again check their preparedness and introduce whatever was found lacking.

In particular, he calls for the introduction of crisis training programs.

“What do you do when you get a bomb threat?” Kojima asked. “You have to be especially alert about schools for children of Japanese workers, which can be an easy target for terrorists.”