We spoke to Lori Henderson, Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan about how the aftermath of the earthquake is affecting British businesses in Japan.
How are British companies coping with the aftermath of the earthquake?
Immediately after the news broke, the question most British companies were asking was ¡ÈHow can we help Tohoku?¡É. Some were in a position to provide emergency supplies such as water, food, medicine and other aid for survivors; others could mobilise trucks and drivers to deliver this aid; many more donated funds to NPOs working in the worst-hit areas. Within a matter of days, and in spite of the worsening situation at the Fukushima power plant and subsequent rolling blackouts, the majority began taking a ¡Èbusiness as usual¡É approach - albeit in unusual circumstances. Most continued to work from their offices; some worked remotely; a small percentage, mainly those whose businesses could not risk the impact of planned electricity shortages, relocated to other parts of Japan. Even employees in North East Japan insisted on working ¡Ènormally¡É despite the devastation of the surrounding areas. Life and business changed forever on March 11, but British companies have now begun charting ¡Èthe new normal¡É.
What are British businesses doing to help Japan to get back on its feet? British businesses are continuing to support the recovery of the Tohoku region by, among other things, setting up donor matching schemes. These schemes ensure that every yen donated by employees to charity is matched by the company. Some are sending small teams of volunteers to the North, to complement the activities of larger NPOs. Others have joined NPO advisory boards, collaborating with Japanese and other nationalities on how best to spend the funds that have been collected thus far.
In terms of mid-term strategy, a recent survey carried out by the Foreign Chambers in Japan showed that, in spite of recent events, 70% of British businesses are seeking growth over the next six months and only 2% are considering withdrawing from the market. Although consumer confidence has taken a hit, and the country faces further temporary disruptions such as reduced electricity during the summer months, British companies are here to stay.
There is no quick fix to the current situation but there is - and will continue to be - a strong British presence in Japan. The British Embassy and the British Chamber of Commerce remained open and active throughout the crisis, and this sense of solidarity demonstrates the British commitment to the country and its people.
What is your message to British businesses considering branching out into the Japanese market? Japan is very much open for business. New opportunities exist.
What do you predict for Japan-UK business relations in the coming years? British companies are committed to helping Japan recover and thrive. Japan is a strategically important partner for the UK and it is vital to maintain solid links with Japanese customers, clients, and the government, especially during turbulent times. UK loyalty to this market will not waver. We send our sincere sympathies to those who were affected by the disasters, and will continue to support Japan during its time of need and beyond.
Lori Henderson is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org