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close this bookIndustrial Pollution in Japan (UNU, 1992, 187 pages)
close this folderConclusions
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentI. Basic human rights
View the documentII. Issues arising out of court struggles
View the documentIII. The role of science and technology
View the documentIV. The mass media
View the documentV. The future of Japan

I. Basic human rights

Even when very similar problems of environmental destruction are brought to the fore, the resulting societal disruption often varies according to the differing environmental conditions, historical contexts, and locations. Therefore, problems caused by a ravaged human environment are not solvable through the mere application of a technical "fix" or the introduction of new legal structures which ignore fundamental local differences and the need for the participation of pollution victims in the problem-solving process. This is a very important political process within the widest framework.

The most important factor for the prevention of pollution problems is the development in the general population of an appreciation for basic human rights and the need always to remain free from oppression. During the long period of modernization in Japan, the prevention of pollution rested almost entirely on the autonomous movements of the victims, aided in part by victim-support groups made up of people who have come under the influence of those victims. In this respect, it can be said that even the pollution-control laws and their attendant technical policies resulted from these citizens' movements that were centred on the victims' groups. The most effective movement orientations were derived from direct non-violent action. Very often women were central to their efforts to bring about meaningful social change. It is interesting to note that these aspects are common to citizens" movements all over the world.

In short, when there is a sense of strong local autonomy, and when decision-making is based on enlightened action by citizens, pollution problems almost never occur. In this sense the importance of political power for the local community is not to be underestimated. Without the involvement of the people in decision-making processes related to pollution, activities affecting the environment are unilaterally initiated by powerful industrial polluters, and the problems involved in maintaining a viable human environment are never solved. Fishermen and farmers who, in the context of industrial societies, are in weaker social strata, are always more dependent on the natural environment than are the powerful and economically well-to-do. When an environment is destroyed and thereby loses its productive viability, the economically, socially, and politically weakest members of society are the ones who suffer most radically from the destruction. Once there is a loss of environmental viability, a new round of poverty and related suffering is generated.

With this basic understanding in mind, priorities should be established so that the voices of the weak are heard and their participation in decision-making processes guaranteed. If this is not the case, then wealth and power will continue to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands, and those who have that power will use up all our limited natural resources and destroy the viability of the environment out of either ignorance or arrogance or both. Then the powerless in society will struggle against each other for control of the meagre resources that are left, and in the process destroy all that remains of the environment. Because of this increased competition for dwindling resources, social tension and fear increase and military power is used to suppress conflicts, thereby exacerbating the problems of the weak. These are phenomena common to all the world's peoples.

1. The Role of Industrial Corporations and Governmental

The Ashio copper-mine conglomerate, the Morinaga Milk Company, and the Chisso Corporation were profit-oriented industrial organizations that developed rapidly during Japan's high-economic-growth period after the end of the Second World War. These corporations neglected to invest in safety and pollution-prevention equipment so as not to short-circuit profit maximization. However, the causes of the pollution problems created by these corporations were revealed and monetary compensation had to be paid to the pollution victims, which drastically increased the economic burden on those organizations. Moreover, these companies experienced in the process a worsening of their management orientations because of other sequentially related factors. Since these corporations were among those with the least economic viability, once the pollution-related cause-and-effect relationships had been established the effects on corporate viability were devastating. Therefore, corporate activities that destroy natural ecosystems should be countered at the outset; otherwise pollution problems become a significant problem for the offending corporate body. The Minamata disease and the Morinaga arsenic milk poisoning cases did a great deal of damage to the public image of the chemical and food products industries. As a result these two environmental poisoning cases adversely affected the entire economy of Japan.

The political élites and related organizations, as well as governmental bureaux and agencies, treated these pollution problems purely as issues of occupational safety, and for a very long time paid little attention to the severity of the situation. The ineffectual and time-consuming negotiation processes established by government agencies that were purportedly "problem-solving" simply made things worse by extending the time period during which environmental destruction was allowed to continue. When a government lacks the political will that is needed for the realization of basic human rights, environmental destruction is exacerbated to such an extent that, finally, solving the problem is beyond human capability.

Organized industrial power is incomparably greater than any power held by the victims of ecological duress. Unless the government has a clear mandate from the people and the related political will to ensure continued environmental health and viability, as well as the protection of human rights, the implementation of effective policies that will contribute to a sound environment will never be realized. In order that environmental viability be maintained, there must be a well-organized movement of pollution victims, as well as popular involvement in this movement; in addition, social conditions conducive to true democracy must be established, so as to guarantee citizens' participation in the political decision-making processes in order that an adequate understanding of human rights may be fostered and maintained.

Through the study of past experience, it has been learned that pollution problems adversely affect primary industries such as farming, forestry, fishing, and related occupations. Throughout human history, these primary industries have been oppressed by exploitative structures that prevent the voices of their members from ever being heard, let alone influencing the decisions of those in power. As a result of this, environmental damage is simply allowed to worsen until it begins to encroach even on the urban situation. The deterioration of primary industries in Japan has been allowed to continue to an intolerable degree. As an example of this, it is to be noted that Japan's domestic production of primary food calories has dropped to 40 per cent of total caloric consumption. This damage to primary industries has been slowed to some extent, but if political action had been taken earlier, these industries could have been revitalized and pollution-related destruction halted. This is an important factor that should be taken into consideration by other nations of Asia as they head inexorably toward industrialization.

As can be deduced from the massive carbon monoxide poisonings that resulted from the Miike coal-mine explosion, occupational diseases or industrial accidents are recognized as valid human rights issues in situations where the needs of labouring people are protected by active union organization. Where labour unions are strong, the incidences of occupational diseases and industrial disasters are reduced. The majority of Japan's labour unions are organized as adjuncts to their related corporations and therefore tend to be no more than supplemental to the administrative organs of industry. The initial tasks facing the first labour unions were, therefore, the prevention of occupational diseases and industrial disasters. Other tasks have been those of discovering the cause-and-effect relationships that are involved in pollution problems and the collection of valuable data and information that will prevent potential disasters from occurring in the work environment. The protection of the human rights of working people is directly related to health problems in general.

Not only is the strengthening of labour unions essential - it is even more important to increase individual workers' consciousness of human rights issues. If this is made possible, the production of poisonous materials can be stopped and workers can be protected from occupational disasters. As an example of this, in 1970 the production of certain lead-based organometallic compounds was stopped through just this kind of action. It is important that the labour unions increase their efforts in relation to educational programmes that will increase awareness of human rights as well as willingness to take action in this regard.