Mitsubishi Electric must eliminate corporate rot with new management

The irregularities in quality inspections were commonplace. That such corporate culture has persisted is nothing but appalling.

Mitsubishi Electric Corp. has been found to have committed fraudulent inspections of air-conditioning equipment for train cars manufactured at its Nagasaki Works factory. The company failed to conduct a portion of the testing agreed upon with railroad companies that had purchased the equipment and instead filled in false data.

Not only had the wrongdoing been going on for more than 30 years, the company even created a computer program to produce the fake numbers. This was a systematic act and extremely malicious.

In the inspection of air compressors used for the train’s brakes and the opening and closing of doors as well, old data was used instead of testing when models were updated. The company said this had been going on for about 15 years.

At a press conference, Mitsubishi Electric President Takeshi Sugiyama announced his intention to resign to take responsibility. It is essential that the new management undertake reforms to prevent a recurrence.

The company established an investigative committee which includes outside lawyers. How could such a matter have been missed for so many years? The committee needs to expeditiously investigate the cause of the irregularities, including looking at the background.

Mitsubishi Electric is one of Japan’s top manufacturers of air-conditioning equipment for trains and other products. If by prioritizing efficiency the company neglected product quality, it bears serious responsibility.

Brakes and doors are integral to the safety of trains. Mitsubishi Electric asserts there are no problems with the safety, function, or performance of its products, but the company needs to carefully explain the basis for this claim. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the competent authorities in such matters, should also do their utmost to reconfirm product safety.

Since 2018, when the falsification of data in the inspection of rubber products by a Mitsubishi Electric subsidiary came to light, problematic cases have occurred one after another. And each time, the company promised to take thorough measures to prevent a recurrence.

The company conducted a total of three internal investigations when fraudulent inspections were found at auto manufacturers and other companies between fiscal 2016 and 2017, as well as between fiscal 2018 and 2019, but in none of them were the irregularities of the current case reported. The company’s inability to clean up its own mess is obvious.

It is important to examine the factors behind this and clear away the rot.

Among the company’s outside directors are a former administrative vice foreign minister and a former prosecutor general. Why did the oversight function of the board of directors fail to work sufficiently?

It has been pointed out that the strong independence of the business division was the reason why the wrongdoings were overlooked for such a long time. Drastic reform of corporate governance and corporate culture is essential.

The irregularities were discovered in mid-June, but no explanation was given at the annual shareholders’ meeting on June 29. It was not until July 2 that a press conference was held. The company has to bear in mind that taking a reluctant attitude toward explaining its behavior keeps it far from restoring trust.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 3, 2021.