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Manufacturers that falsified data abused ‘tokusai’ custom

Reuters

Kobe Steel’s Kakogawa Works is seen in Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture, on Nov. 13.

Jiji PressTOKYO (Jiji Press) — A recent spate of quality data falsification scandals at the country’s manufacturers have a common feature: the abuse of a longstanding business custom called tokusai, an abbreviation of tokubetsu saiyo, which is literally translated as special adoption.

In principle, tokusai refers to shipments upon clients’ consent for irregular products that still meet safety criteria.

“It’s common in the materials industry, in which deviations in product quality are relatively likely to occur,” an official at a major nonferrous metals producer said.

But the process of obtaining clients’ consent for deliveries of irregular products is believed to have been neglected at Kobe Steel Ltd., Mitsubishi Materials Corp. and Toray Industries Inc., all of which have recently announced product data falsification by their workers.

Furthermore, tokusai had a different meaning at Kobe Steel, where the term was even used for irregular products with manipulated data.

In October, Kobe Steel said that the group had shipped aluminum, copper and other products with falsified quality data to about 500 customers including automakers, aircraft manufacturers and defense-related companies.

Mitsubishi Materials said in November that two subsidiaries had shipped substandard products after manipulating their inspection data. The affected customers included the Defense Ministry, and some of the products were used in Self-Defense Forces aircraft and vessels.

Toray Industries last week revealed data manipulation for tire materials and other products.

As a factor behind the misconduct, an official of Toray’s product safety planning office cited the view that because product standards are set with sufficient margin, some manipulation of product data will not cause inconvenience to customers.

This view appears to have some supporters. “Small shortfalls (against set product standards) will not immediately cause safety problems as there are sufficient architectural margins,” said a senior official of West Japan Railway Co., or JR West, which uses Kobe Steel aluminum products in Shinkansen bullet trains.

Industry officials are worried, however, that if materials manufacturers make light of the standards set by themselves, their reputation for quality will be damaged, along with the trust in the end products that use their materials.

“If you do something dishonest in the manufacturing world, you will certainly face a backlash,” said Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, or Keizai Doyukai. “To do jobs in a foolishly honest manner is the way of top managers.”Speech

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