I’ve chosen to address a fairly morbid topic today: Death. Death is inevitable. As of yet, modern science has not created a cure for death. There are a number of things that prolong life but at some point we will all take our last breath. In fact, movies and television make death a form of art. This is especially true during late October to commemorate Halloween.
Moviemakers now have a word to describe the deaths that are caused by overworking. That word is Karoshi. One article describes the death of a 30 year old line worker in a Toyota factory in 2002. The government claimed the death was caused by an irregular heartbeat to avoid paying the work-related death benefits. This ruling was overruled last week.
Can karoshi happen? I honestly don’t know, but I am not planning to run an experiment to find out.
Another article points to Toyota’s labor practices as the potential cause of this karoshi. This is disturbing news for those of us that often use Toyota as an example of how lean should be practiced. Obviously we are missing a tremendous amount of detail on the case, but even if there is a shred of truth to the claims and the description of the work practices it deserves some consideration.
What deserves even more consideration is whether or not Toyota was buying silence.
Hiroko Uchino, who said she was probably the first to speak out in public against Toyota on the ‘karoshi’ issue, accused Japanese media of being reluctant to give Toyota any negative press, fearing repercussions on advertising revenues. "One regional paper refused to print Toyota’s name, only calling them ‘a carmaker in the Nagoya area’," she said. "Another magazine also refused to disclose the company, and when I saw the issue, the back cover carried a Toyota ad."
I’m not a big fan of sensational stories, but this one caught my attention because I have always been a big fan of Toyota as a corporation. Respect for people is foundational to Toyota’s philosophy so if the allegations in these articles are true, Toyota must repair those labor practices that do not show respect for its workers or join the ranks of companies that only pay lip service to the motto that people are their most valuable asset.