Japanese Mobilize for Asbestos Justice 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



On the afternoon of Thursday, May 15, 2014 more than five thousand people took part in an outdoor meeting and rally in support of asbestos-injured construction workers. The date chosen was significant as it was the day when cases were filed with the Tokyo and Yokohama District Courts in the second wave of what has become known as the “metropolitan asbestos litigation.”


The 160+ asbestos claimants, who included injured workers and the families of deceased workers, alleged that the Japanese government as well as asbestos product manufacturers were responsible for their injuries. Plaintiffs included members and former members of the Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama branches of Zenkensoren, the National Federation of Construction Workers Unions. Similar lawsuits are pending in Sapporo, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka. The litigants are seeking recognition, compensation and the establishment of a nationwide asbestos program to prevent hazardous exposures.


The crowd was addressed by trade unions officials, asbestos victims’ representatives and politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties. To date, 270 of the members of the national diet (nearly 40%) have signed a petition supporting the plaintiffs’ demands. Speaking on behalf of The Ban Asbestos Network of Japan (BanJan) Sugio Furuya expressed BanJan’s support for the injured saying:

“The plaintiffs’ demands are an apology, compensation for asbestos victims and their families and the elimination of asbestos-related diseases. They are demanding political action be taken to set up a special compensation fund for asbestos victims in the construction sector which will be funded by the government and asbestos product manufacturers. The litigation process is a long one and many of these claimants will not live to see the final judgment. That is why government action is needed now so that the injured and their families receive the support they deserve.”

The first wave of this litigation consisted of 400 cases heard by Tokyo and Yokohama District Courts in May 2008; plaintiffs’ verdicts were handed down. On May 25, 2012 the Yokohama District Court overturned the earlier ruling finding neither the manufacturers nor the government liable. On December 5, 2013, while the Tokyo District Court ruled the government to be negligent in some cases and acknowledged the “social responsibility” of the manufacturers, it failed to recognize many of the claims including those of the self-employed. Furthermore, fines imposed on the government were only a third of the total value of the damages as the Court ruled its negligence to be of secondary importance. Appeals are progressing before the Tokyo High Court.

May 19, 2014



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