TOKYO • Japan's Mitsubishi Materials said yesterday it would offer a landmark apology to US prisoners of war forced to work for the industrial giant during World War II, seven decades after the conflict ended.
A senior company executive will apologise to 94-year-old survivor James Murphy and the relatives of other POWs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California, on Sunday.
The centre is dedicated to the rights of Holocaust survivors.
"Mr Murphy will represent all the American prisoners of war who were put to labour in the then company's mines in Japan," a company spokesman said.
The sprawling conglomerate, which now makes everything from cement to electronics, forced about 900 American POWs to work, among the thousands of US prisoners pushed into slave labour at Japanese firms during the war.
Koreans and Chinese were also victims of such forced labour and reparations have been demanded from other Japanese firms in a string of court cases.
It was not clear what prompted the apology so long after the war, but the Japanese government officially apologised to former American POWs only five years ago.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said: "It's the first time a major Japanese company has made such a gesture.
"We hope this will spur other companies to join in and do the same."
While previous prime ministers have apologised for Japan's aggression during World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative agenda includes a less apologetic tone about the past.
He has said he upholds apologies made by previous administrations, but he has also signalled that he wants to focus more on the future, given that it has been 70 years since the war ended.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS