In government, as in business, it’s important to think not just about the direct effects of your actions, but also about the indirect effect your actions have in terms of the example they set for others, and the way your actions shape who you are.
Bearing that in mind: what message do you think the cynical letter-of-the-law approach that the government of Japan has heretofore taken to the question of whaling has on business culture in Japan?
As you may have heard, U.N. Court recently ordered Japan to stop whaling in the southern ocean. And it seems like Japan has decided to honour the order, announcing plans to cancel its whale hunt off Antarctica, at least for this year.
Japan has flouted the 1986 moratorium on whaling, making use of a loophole that allows whaling for scientific purposes. In effect, the country’s fleet kills whales under the guise of science, and sells the meat for human consumption. You don’t have to be an ardent defender of the world’s whales to see the problems inherent in an having a key player in the world’s economy flouting an international standard.
And just think for a minute about that approach to compliance. It effectively means adopting the credo, Do what you want, spirit of the law be damned, as long as you can find even the narrowest of loopholes. What example has the country’s leadership been setting for the business community? How can government ministers look business leaders in the eye and encourage them to cleave to the meaning and intent of regulations? How can the government ask business, without risking hypocrisy, not to make cynical, self-serving use of loopholes?
Naturally, the government of Japan is not alone in this dilemma. The demands of political expediency often mean that political leaders get caught in a do-as-I say, not-as-I-do self-contradiction. But Japan’s stance on whaling seems a particularly blatant example. And the future of the issue still remains unclear. Japan has only committed to cancelling its whale hunt for this year. Time will tell whether the Japanese government, on this issue at least, demonstrates character worthy of emulation, or instead goes back to an approach aimed merely at securing short-term gains.