06/01/2016 00:55 EDT | Updated 06/01/2017 01:12 EDT

Mitsubishi Materials, Chinese WWII slave workers reach deal

TOKYO — Mitsubishi Materials Corp., one of dozens of Japanese companies that used Chinese forced labourers during World War II, reached a settlement Wednesday covering thousands of victims that includes compensation and an apology.

The deal was signed in Beijing with three former workers representing the company's more than 3,000 Chinese victims of forced labour, Mitsubishi Materials said in a statement.

The victims were among about 40,000 Chinese brought to Japan in the early 1940s as forced labourers to make up for a domestic labour shortage. Many died due to violence and malnutrition amid harsh treatment by the Japanese.

Under the settlement, Mitsubishi Materials will pay 100,000 yuan ($15,000) to each of the Chinese victims and their families. The victims were forced to work at 10 coal mines operated by Mitsubishi Mining Corp., what Mitsubishi Materials was known as at the time.

Mitsubishi Materials said it would try to locate all of the victims. The company's payments would total 370 million yuan ($56 million) if all of them come forward.

At the signing ceremony in Beijing, the company "expressed its sincere apologies regarding its historical responsibility to the former labourers and the apologies were accepted by the three former labourers," the company's statement said.

Mitsubishi Materials also said it would construct memorials at the sites where the company's mines were located and organize memorial ceremonies.

The settlement comes two years after several groups representing the victims and their families filed a compensation lawsuit against Mitsubishi Materials. The sides had since negotiated settlements, though one of the groups, representing 37 plaintiffs, has rejected the settlement, according to Japan's Kyodo News agency.

Japan's government has long insisted that all wartime compensation issues were settled under the postwar peace treaties, and that China waived its right to pursue compensation under the 1972 treaty with Japan that established diplomatic relations between Beijing and Tokyo. Lawsuits filed in Japan by Chinese and Korean victims of Japanese wartime aggression, including former forced labourers and sex slaves, had previously been rejected.

Japan's Foreign Ministry acknowledged the country's wartime use of Chinese forced labourers after wartime documents were found in the early 1990s.

The settlement announced Wednesday is the first ever that Mitsubishi Materials has reached with former forced labourers. At least two other Japanese construction companies — Kajima Corp. and Nishimatsu Co. — have taken similar steps to compensate smaller groups of victims.

Last year, Mitsubishi Materials apologized for its treatment of former U.S. prisoners of war.


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