Friday, February 26, 2010

The US does not rule the world !

If you have followed the Toyota story, the latest twist of Toyota’s Chairman, Akio Toyoda being called to “depose” before the United States Congressional Committee, shows that the US politicians just don’t get it. “Surely if Congress can be here, so can you," Congressman Darrell Issa of California said in an electronic letter to Toyoda. Separately, he said he would "fully support" subpoenaing Toyoda, which means compelling him to appear. Behave like this and then wonder why the US is disliked so much elsewhere !!

To his credit, Toyoda-san chose to appear in person. He was subject to typical bullying and rudeness by pompous Congressmen, who were of course making political capital. Toyoda-san handled it with much grace and typical Japanese politeness. Grace and politeness are alien concepts to US Congressmen.

While Toyota is facing huge recalls and much business trouble, the key is that they have done nothing breaking the law. The “outrage” by the US Congress is all about when management knew about the defects, when it recalled etc etc. There is nothing to suggest any criminal act. While the faults itself have been in relatively few instances, the size of the recall and action is massive. If the same standards of immediacy of response were to be made applicable to US Congressmen on health care, every one of them must cool his or her heels in jail.

There is one small point to be made. Akio Toyoda is a Japanese national. He is based in Japan. He may be the Chairman of Toyota, but he does not run the US operation. Since when has the United States Congress the right to demand presence of every foreign national for “investigation” and “deposition”. If he has committed a crime on US soil, sure subject him to due process of law. If not, it might be good to reflect on the fact that the jurisdiction of the US Congress is only on US nationals and the rest of the world should bluntly tell it where its place is.

Its very rich coming from a body that preaches sovereignty to others. Would they take kindly to Bill Gates being called before the EU parliament and insulted for the anti trust violations, the Chairman of Johnson & Johnson being summoned by the Fijian parliament over the Tylenol recall, the Chairman of Boeing being grilled by every country’s parliament whenever there is an aircrash. Just imagine a US Chairman being summoned by China’s Communist party politburo whenever its Chinese subsidiary did something which angered the hosts.

There is an unbelievable amount of good and great in the US. It is a great nation with much to admire. Sadly, there is not much to admire in their lawmakers. Their sheer insensitivity, rudeness and misbehaviour may be fine in Washington, but that is strictly where it should be restricted to. Global corporations are subject to the laws and practices of each country they operate in. Equally the laws of a country stop at its borders and on its nationals. The United States Congress has no business bullying Toyoda san. The right response from Toyoda san , although he wouldn’t dream of doing it, would have been to tell the windbags to stuff it !

Toyoda san did this to manage the image of the company in the US. But he has set a dangerous precedent on a matter of principle.