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Japanese company to apologize for forced labor during WWII

Updated: 2015-07-16 07:52
By Associated Press in Washington (China Daily)

A major Japanese corporation will offer a landmark apology this weekend for forcing US prisoners of war to work under brutal conditions at its plants during World War II, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is hosting the event.

A senior executive of Mitsubishi Materials Corp will apologize to 94-year-old James Murphy, of Santa Maria, California, and relatives of other former POWs who toiled at plants its predecessor company operated in Japan during the war.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the center, an organization that primarily educates about the Holocaust, described it as an important apology, coming as it does ahead of the 70th anniversary in August of the end of the war.

The anniversary has heightened scrutiny of Japan's attitude to its past abuses, said Cooper, who is helping moderate the closed-door meeting on Sunday at the center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

"It's the first time a major Japanese company has ever made such a gesture. We hope this will spur other companies to join in and do the same," he said.

Masato Otaka, spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Washington, said the apology was being made at the initiative of Mitsubishi Materials. He said the Japanese government has no involvement.

Japan's government issued a formal apology to US POWs in 2009 and again in 2010, but until now, the dwindling ranks of veterans have gained little traction in their demand that Japanese corporations that used them as slaves at mines and industrial plants under often brutal conditions do the same.

Some 12,000 US prisoners were shipped to Japan and forced to work to support imperial Japan's war effort, and about 10 percent died.

Japan's government recently acknowledged that tens of thousands of Koreans, Chinese and World War II POWs were conscripted to fill labor shortages at factories, mines and other sites. The acknowledgment was part of its successful attempt to win UN world heritage status for 23 historical Japanese industrial sites.

Murphy said he forgave his captors after the war, but has hankered for an apology for 70 years. He participated in a class-action lawsuit attempting to sue the Japanese government for the year he spent in the copper mine, which failed. No money is being offered by the corporation, but Murphy said he considered the upcoming apology "a big deal".

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