Japan's global firms strive for 'business as usual'

Wrecked car
Image caption A Toyota Yaris, once destined for the north American market, wrecked at a port in Sendai

The battering stock markets have received in the wake of Japan's earthquake is another vivid demonstration of how globalised the world now is.

Companies and banks with bases in the UK, but with employees and even headquarters in Japan, are monitoring the situation in Tokyo and assessing how best to proceed.

While many organisations say they continue to watch the situation, none BBC News spoke to would admit to considering moving personnel out of Japan at this point - whether they're Japanese, from the UK or anywhere else.

The emphasis is on preserving business continuity and, in the case of the big corporations actually aiding the relief efforts with massive donations of cash and trucks full of supplies.

Supply delays

Potentially the most vulnerable industry is the motor manufacturing sector, with companies building cars in Britain and the EU requiring parts from all over the world - and Japan in particular.

Toyota suspended production for three days in Japan itself while it checked on the safety of employees and their family members, as did other car-makers.

Image caption The Toyota plant in Derbyshire held a two-minute silence in memory of the disaster victims

That could result in a minor knock-on effect on parts for its models in the UK, though that would not be felt instantly because the components take six weeks to arrive here by sea.

Nevertheless, workers at Toyota's two plants in Burnaston and Deeside have been told they will get an extra Saturday off - 26 March - while the supply catches up. Other plants in the EU are also due to suspend operations at weekends.

But, along with the logistics, there is also an important emotional connection - the union jack is currently flying at half-mast at the Derbyshire plant at the request of the employees, who also held a two-minute silence in memory of the victims.

Honda has already set up two teams to source components and ensure production continues at its plant in Swindon. Although the company's plants in Japan will be shut for five days, a spokesman in the UK stressed that there was currently no shortage of supply.

'Plan kicked in'

The financial services sector, particularly companies with strong links to Japan, is also considering the way ahead.

A spokeswoman for the Japanese-based Nomura financial group, with 16,000 employees in Japan and more than 3,000 here, explained how it had special teams to ensure business continuity in the face of crisis.

"When the earthquake and tsunami happened the plan kicked in. Our first priority was to account for staff - we have a big branch network in Japan as well as a headquarters in Tokyo - and that has now been done."

And at the moment, despite the reported power cuts and food shortages in Tokyo, it was business as usual, she said.

Smaller organisations also concentrated on checking on their employees. A spokeswoman for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme, which has 40 UK employees in Japan, said they were satisfied all its people were now accounted for.

But she admitted the situation was still very confused and stressed JET was still watching the situation as it developed.

Financial support

In the meantime corporate Japan is showing how powerful it can be in delivering raw financial and logistic support to the hard-pressed relief effort in the north-east of the country.

The electronics giant Sony wouldn't comment on any effect the crisis might be having on its operations in the EU, but has announced a 300m yen (£2.31m) cash injection into the aid effort, as well as a donation of 30,000 radios for the earthquake victims.

A disaster relief fund will collect from the company's employees worldwide.

Toyota has despatched six truck-loads of water and fuel along with 60 of its personnel to the affected area, as well as making another 300m yen donation. Honda has matched that as well as sending generators and gas canisters.

In the midst of the problems Japanese corporations are keen to do their bit - and to be seen doing it.

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