TOKYO — Japanese companies are beneath deepening strain over their ties to Russia and are scrambling to evaluate their operations, firm and authorities insiders say, after Western rivals halted companies and condemned Moscow for invading Ukraine.
Whereas environmental, social and governance (ESG) buyers have beforehand focused Japan Inc. to be used of fossil fuels, scrutiny over Russia might grow to be intense. Executives say privately they’re anxious about reputational harm, an indication company Japan is — nevertheless reluctantly — changing into extra conscious of strain on social points.
Japan’s buying and selling homes, commodities giants lengthy seen as quasi-governmental arms integral to Japan’s vitality provide, have large ties to Russia. Final 12 months Russia was Japan’s second-biggest provider of thermal coal and its fifth-largest of each crude oil and liquefied pure fuel (LNG).
“The energy issue has implications for national and public interest, so it has to be discussed properly with the government,” mentioned one buying and selling home insider, who like others spoke on situation of anonymity.
“But we also have to think about our corporate value and about how we explain this to our shareholders. It’s a difficult position.”
Mitsui & Co. and Mitsubishi Corp. have stakes in the large Sakhalin-2 LNG mission Shell is now exiting. Itochu Corp. and Marubeni Corp. have invested in the Sakhalin-1 oil mission that Exxon Mobil is pulling out of.
Mitsui and Mitsubishi mentioned they’d take into account the scenario, along with the Japanese authorities and companions. Itochu and Marubeni declined to touch upon their plans associated to Sakhalin-1.
Japanese companies have largely mentioned they’re watching the scenario. Those who have halted exercise have tended to quote supply-chain disruption fairly than human rights.
A senior government at an automaker mentioned administration at his firm was holding each day conferences to gauge the impression of economic sanctions and the implication for components provide.
“We’re also discussing reputational risk and how to deal with the news from the point of view of human rights and ESG — of course we’re aware of that,” mentioned the government.
“But we can’t just immediately decide we’re going to pull out because we can’t tell how long the Ukraine crisis will continue.”
Japanese companies usually don’t face the identical degree of scrutiny from shareholders, clients, regulators, and even their very own staff that Western firms now confront, mentioned Jana Jevcakova, the worldwide head of ESG at shareholder providers agency Morrow Sodali.
“Most Japanese companies still don’t have a majority of international institutional investors. Those that do will very shortly, or already are, feel the pressure.”
RELIANT ON RUSSIA
A producing government mentioned his firm felt a accountability to native employees in Russia however was additionally involved about the danger of claiming nothing.
“Japanese companies have been slow to react. Too slow. And I can’t agree with that,” he mentioned. “If we keep quiet and just continue manufacturing and selling, we will likely face a risk to our reputation.”
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has unveiled steps to assist cushion the blow from greater oil costs, however it’s unclear what the authorities will do about broader dependence on Russia. Japan’s imports from Russia totaled round $11 billion in 2020.
Authorities officers say privately Japan can not simply stroll away from Russian vitality, even as they acknowledge the peril.
“If Japan remains invested in Russia, that itself runs the risk of drawing criticism” ought to the battle be extended, mentioned an official near Mr. Kishida.
In a second of uncommon outspokenness for the chief of a state-owned lender, the head of the Japan Financial institution for Worldwide Cooperation mentioned final week that “it would not be right” for firms to stay to enterprise as common in Russia.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. have stopped exports to Russia, citing logistics points, with Toyota halting native manufacturing.
Nissan, Mazda Motor Corp., and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. are all prone to cease native manufacturing when components inventories run out, they are saying.
Japan’s most distinguished firms will possible really feel extra heat as Western buyers themselves pare again ties to Russia.
“We believe good corporate citizenship includes support of governmental sanctions, as well as closing down activities that might fall outside the current sanctions,” mentioned Anders Schelde, chief funding officer at Danish pension fund AkademikerPension, which has $21.3 billion of property beneath administration and $342 million publicity to Japanese equities.
“From a financial point of view this might mean companies suffer short-term losses, but given the long-term stigmatization of Russia that is likely, the long-term cost will not change much.” — Yuka Obayashi, Maki Shiraki, and Yoshifumi Takemoto/Reuters