CSR: When Social Responsibility is Not Just a Buzzword

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By Taro Ichikawa in Tokyo
 IDN-InDepth NewsFeature

Corporate social responsibility is not just a buzzword for Isao Mizuno. It is a commitment he and his 95 employees translate into practice day in and day out. Mizuno is the president of Chiyoda Unyu, a transportation company in western Tokyo.

Since 2002, they have been supporting a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Japan, which is engaged in a reforestation project in some 5,100 kilometres away Nepal. Chiyoda Unyu workers collect empty milk packages, considered as recyclable waste in Japan, and bring these to the company. Chiyoda Unyu forwards these to an NGO which sells these to a recycling company, and supports with the proceeds tree planting projects at the feet of the Himalayas. [GERMAN | JAPANESE]

Isao Mizuno took charge of the company at the age of 33 – in the wake of his father Tsutomu Mizuno passing away in 1986. Founded in 1953, the same year as Isao was born, Chiyoda Unyu transports heavy trucks, passenger cars, and household goods. It also manages logistics centres and auto part stores.

Before following in his father's footsteps, Isao Mizuno graduated from Keio University in 1975, when Japan was in the throes of an economic depression in the aftermath of oil crisis. He continued his studies at the Keio University business school for another year, before joining Ito Yokado, a major retailer in Japan. He worked there for six years, mostly at the headquarters, also serving as secretary for the company's founder Masatoshi Ito for two years.

Isao then moved on to Hino Motors where he learnt for four years all aspects of automobile sales. During this period, he established personal relations with co-workers, which proved to be a great asset for Chiyoda Unyu after he started working for his father in 1986 who asked Isao take care of the company in view of his deteriorating health.

Father Tsutomu had entered into an agreement with the Hino Motors group in 1956, three years after he set up Mizuno Rikuso (company name was changed to Chiyoda Unyu with this agreement), which enabled it to consolidate capital in exchange for accepting two board members from Hino Motors. Since then, Chiyoda Unyu has developed into an affiliated company of Hino Motors group. In 1990, Hino Motors, Ltd held a ceremony to present a letter of appreciation to Chiyoda Unyu to commemorate the occasion of Chiyoda Unyu purchasing 500th truck from Hino Motors.

SAFETY FIRST

With the welfare of the company at heart, the prerequisite for which is the welfare of its employees, Isao Mizuno regards 'safety first' for his employees as an essential component of corporate social responsibility. "I believe a company is obliged to undertake every possible effort to help drivers minimize human errors even if those measures may cost a fortune for the company," he tells IDN.

He adds: "The behaviour of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) in relation to the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster affirms my view that there is no such thing as 'sufficient' when it comes to safety measures. No matter how hard you keep working on safety measures, one accident could ruin your reputation."

"We are handling huge and expensive merchandise," he adds. "Although we have insurance for these operations, an accident can cause a huge damage as costs of those vehicles are very high ranging up to 70 million yens (Euro 615,550) per a vehicle.

Isao Mizuno recalls that between six and seven years ago, several accidents occurred while transporting merchandise vehicles. Though Chiyoda Unyu trucks carrying cargos such as auto parts were equipped with digital taco graphs allowing the company to grasp driving patterns of its drivers, large vehicles which the company's drivers transport from factory to dealers are clients' vehicles and not equipped with digital taco graphs.

'SATETY RECORDER'

"Fortunately, I found a wonderful device called 'safety recorder' by Datatec. Unlike digital taco graph which has to be fixed in a truck, safety recorder is a portable device which can be charged with electricity through cigar lighter socket. It is equipped with five sensors to detect driving pattern as well as GPS, and the installed software would show your driving performance in the form of points (full points: 100) on a pentagonal graph," says Isao Mizuno.

Though the device was rather expensive, he purchased 440 pieces and required each driver of the company and of subsidiary companies to use this portable device when they transport merchandized vehicles and cargos (if their vehicles are not equipped with digital taco graphs). He then introduced seven grade evaluation systems (from higher rank to lower rank: A, B, C, D, E, F and N). "We eliminated N about two years ago and have meanwhile almost eliminated F; in other words, the overall driving skills have been improved."

He adds: "Every month, I put up on a wall a list of top 30 drivers who scored highest points and every six months I award best drivers with certificates of commendations and prizes to give them incentives for safer driving. This grade/point system is applied to all subsidiary companies so that I can grasp average points monthly of each company."

To begin with, some drivers passively resisted the introduction of 'safety recorders' as they felt uncomfortable to be monitored by a third party on their driving pattern. They would make such excuses as "I forgot to insert a memory card," or "I forgot to plug it in".

But Isao Mizuno was convinced that he had to make it a norm to use the device to prevent traffic accidents. The tide turned when some drivers started to score 100 points even on long-distant driving such as between Tokyo and Hiroshima (700km).

Other drivers would say "if he can do it, I can do it too". So they started competing for better scores, and for their own safety. Because the device is equipped with GPS so that the record shows where and at what speed the driver was driving. These objective records protect a driver in case of an accident.

Isao Mizuno also introduced an alcohol detecting system at five business branches in Japan. The system is connected with a computer with a web camera so that the face of a driver, his name, result of the test as well as his blood pressure is recorded and can be viewed through online connection.

This also serves as roll call for all drivers on operation throughout Japan through these five business offices. In this way, the management can grasp the health condition (for example, determine that a driver is not under the influence of alcohol) of drivers on a daily basis. Introduction of the alcohol detecting system also cost the company "a fortune" but "I believe that it is a worthwhile investment to minimize accident which means protecting our drivers as well as reputation of our company," says Isao Mizuno.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Chiyoda Unyu obtained ISO 14001 in 2002 and has been awarded three times so far (every three years). "Our company was probably the first trucking company to obtain ISO 14001 in western Tokyo," said Isao Mizuno, apparently filled with pride.

Chiyoda Unyu was the first company to carry mass transportation of merchandise trucks and cars on super-seized carriers. From early 1960s, manufacturing of automobiles skyrocketed in Japan and this necessitated transportation system to be greatly upgraded. It was in that period that sizes of super-sized carrier trucks got bigger and bigger and some ground transportation companies including Chiyoda Unyu introduced trailers.

Even the Railroad Company newly introduced special double-deck cargo compartment capable of carrying 12 cars in 1965. Some shipping companies also introduced special purpose vessels for cars. In 1972, Chiyoda Unyu found that the volume of middle sized merchandized cars commissioned by Hino Motors would exceed its existing ground transportation capacity and after consulting with them started transporting them by sea.
The merit of sea transportation is that Chiyoda Unyu could bring those merchandized cars without driving them for a long distance (thus merchandize value remains high) and those cars were free from risks of road traffic accidents. As of 2011, Chiyoda Unyu has contracts with 15 shipping companies for 25 sea routes and transports about 5,000 vehicles by sea every month.

COMMUNICATION

Isao Mizuno has not only been attaching priority to safety of his employees but also actively promoting communication with them and the local community. For the former, he organises barbecue parties and year-end feasts inviting also families of employees. For the latter too he has been engaged in multiple activities: Since 1992, Isao has been receiving local students by way of informing them about social aspects of his business.

Besides, since 2003, he has been actively involving his company in supporting spring festival held around Hino city central park and city hall by opening a stall to sell shoes, providing a truck as a stage for performance and speeches and making and setting up sign boards, and boxes to collect separated trash – flammable and non-flammable, bottles, cans as well as pet-bottles. Isao also lets his company actively participate in cherry blossom festival held at Hino Motors Hino factory grounds by opening a stall to sell shoes and noodles.

*This is the eighth in a series of special IDN-InDepthNews features on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility'.

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