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Editorial: Companies have important role in Kumamoto quake recovery

The Kumamoto earthquakes have adversely affected companies' production and distribution of goods and services, and those that have suffered are trying to minimize the impact. Hereafter, companies will have an important role to play in the disaster-hit areas, not only through economic activity but also by assisting affected communities and helping secure jobs for victims.

Automobile- and electronics-related factories are concentrated in central Kyushu, including Kumamoto Prefecture. Suspended manufacturing at these plants following the earthquakes has therefore had a huge impact on the whole country.

Toyota Motor Corp. was forced to suspend operations at 15 of its plants in Japan because the factory of a subsidiary of Aisin Seiki Co., which supplies door parts and other goods to the automobile giant, sustained damage in the disaster. Aisin resumed production of relevant products at its other factories, including overseas plants, and Toyota decided to resume production at 11 of its factories starting April 25.

Honda Motor Co. is unlikely to resume production of motorcycles until after the Golden Week holiday period from late April to early May because little progress has been made in restoring its Kumamoto factory.

Mitsubishi Electric Corp. will soon resume operations at a factory producing semiconductors for air conditioners and other devices, but there is no prospect that Sony Corp. will be able to resume operations at its factory producing imaging sensors for smartphones in the near future. The beer and soft drink factories of Suntory Holdings Ltd. still cannot resume production because it has taken a long time to inspect their facilities.

Having learned lessons from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, many companies have made their factories quake-resistant, increased the volume of parts in stock and placed orders for parts and materials in separate installments. Companies should scrutinize whether these measures were appropriate and identify new problems.

However, if companies were to fundamentally reconsider their production systems as well as relations with their business partners and subcontractors in quake-hit areas, it could deal a serious blow to those who are already suffering. Businesses should place priority on maintaining stable and long-term relations with local companies in disaster areas to help residents put their lives back on track.

The earthquakes struck Kumamoto and surrounding areas during the job-hunting season, causing concerns among students about employment prospects. The Japan Business Federation, commonly known as Keidanren, has urged member companies to respond flexibly to students' job searches.

Some companies have decided to postpone employment briefing sessions for students from Kyushu, and at least one of them is considering accepting applicants who are affected by the disaster or whose parents live in Kyushu in June or later. Businesses should do their best to ensure fair opportunities for students seeking jobs.

Companies are also expected to play a role in extending assistance to quake-hit areas. Restaurant operator Yoshinoya Co. provided about 1,000 bowls of beef on rice to evacuation shelters in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, while Ichibanya Co. donated curry with rice for 4,000 evacuees in the city of Kumamoto. There are various ways to support disaster areas, and companies should take advantage of their business resources to help disaster victims.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, Fujitsu Research Institute surveyed the public on the roles that companies should play in society. When asked what kind of contributions they expected companies to extend to society, many respondents chose "support for the establishment of distribution and sales routes for goods to disaster-ravaged areas," "employment of those affected by disasters," "provision of relief supplies and their own products," and "support for the recovery of industries in disaster-hit areas."

The impact of the Kumamoto earthquakes will last a long time. Companies should make efforts to help restore disaster-ravaged areas from a long-term perspective.

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