What Have We Learned?

During a flight on Christmas Day, my husband and I struck up a conversation with a man originally from Guam. He touted the beauty of the island, commenting on its rich history. In particular, he mentioned during World War II, the native Chamarro people protected American service men from being captured by the Japanese who captured the island within days of attacking Pearl Harbor. Today, the island’s key industry is tourism, predominantly visitors from Japan!

A few hours later, while driving to our destination, I read about the newly released movie, Unbroken, about Olympian Louis Zamperini who was relentlessly beaten while in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.

Seventy years later, Japan not only became one of America’s closest allies, but traded their feudal mentality – starting with medieval samurai warriors and concluding with kamikaze fighters – for graciousness and business savvy. They’ve learned diplomacy, innovative, and entrepreneurism are the best weapons for triumphing in today’s global economy.

The transformation of Japan occurred to me yesterday, while doing research on test and measurement companies. I was intrigued by the humanitarian values espoused by two Japanese companies: Hioki and Yokogawa Electric Company. Hioki, located in Nagano, Japan, believes to grow and prosper, they must meet two conditions: each and every employee must realize his or her full potential, and the company must act as a good corporate citizen.

Complementing this philosophy, their core tenents are “respect for humanity” and “contribution to society.” Their commitment to bettering society extends to a health management system for employees, which includes providing all employees and their dependent spouses with thorough health examinations when they turn 30, and then every year after they turn 35.

Yokogawa’s yellow, diamond-shaped logo illustrates their beliefs. The sharp, straight edges on the top half represent their cutting-edge technology, and the gentle curvature of the bottom half denote the “warm-hearted nature of Yokogawa’s people.” Their website further elaborates on the logo explaining, “By balancing these two elements, Yokogawa aims to contribute toward the realization of a thriving global society in much the same way as the sun…[is] reflected in the bright yellow of the diamond.”

While many American companies have similar philosophies and charters, a large percentage is focused on the “bottom line” of maximizing profits, cutting costs, and trouncing competitors, often to the detriment of employees and communities. It makes one wonder what we’ve learned, and perhaps forgotten, during the evolution of America from a handful of colony to a world power.

In 1906, American author Upton Sinclair wrote the book, The Jungle, which exposed the exploitation of immigrants to the United States, unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry, and corrupt business practices. Public pressure, after the release of the book, resulted in the passage of the Meat Inspection Act, and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. It also started a movement to improve working conditions in the meat packaging industry, including laws against child labor.

Today, however, meatpacking continues to be the nation’s most dangerous occupation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic more than one-quarter of meatpacking workers have had job-related injuries or illnesses, and the rate of serious injury is five time the national average.

In 2005, there were around 506,000 people employed in the animal slaughtering and processing industry, earning an average wage of $11.47 per hour, about 30% less than the average wage for all manufacturing jobs in the U.S. In addition, the percentage of Hispanics working in the industry rose from 10% in 1980 to nearly 30% twenty years later. According to an article in Mother Jones, “In some American slaughterhouses, more than three-quarters of the workers are not native English speakers; many can’t read any language, and many are illegal immigrants.”

What have we learned?

Earlier this month, USA Today published an article by journalist Arienne Thompson titled “The exhausting task of being black in America.” It talked about judging a person by their color rather than seeing a human being, and how blacks are still fighting racism sixty years after the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

What have we learned?

In 1962, environmentalist Rachel Carson published the book Silent Springs, documenting the harmful effects of using synthetic pesticides on bird populations, in particular bald eagles. While the book lead to the nationwide ban on DDT for agricultural uses, there continues to be horrific damage done to the environment by fracking, oil spills, overuse of herbicides and pesticides, waste from intensive animal farming, sludge ponds from mining, and much, much more.

What have we learned?

With the most advanced medicine in the world, the United States should have a relatively low infant mortality rate, especially with a chunk of the nation fixated on protecting the rights of the unborn. However, Japan, Greece, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, The Netherlands, Australia, Korea, the United Kingdom, and Canada have considerably lower infant mortality rates.

In 1960, the United States had the twelfth lowest infant mortality rate in the world. Thirty years later, it dropped to twenty-third, and by 2008 it sank to thirty-fourth. Disparities in accessing prenatal care, nutritional supplements, and inadequate social welfare, stemming from economic, ethnic, and racial inequalities are to blame.

For instance, in 2005, the infant mortality rate for African-American babies born in the United States was 13.63 per 1,000 births, more than twice the national average. The same baby born in Russia or Bulgaria had a significantly better chance of survival!

What have we learned?


One comment

  1. great thinking and writing. Thanks for sharing…love you.

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