Righteousness is the source of profit, profit is the sum of righteousness

Addressing the need for a more sincere involvement of businesses in solving the challenges that our society faces in the beginning of the 21st century, the former vice-minister of the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Mr. Takeshi Erikawa ,kicked off his keynote speech by introducing the self-understanding of the Edo-period (A.D. 1600-1900) merchants in Japan. Two aspects of this traditional Japanese way of looking at business are 1) that business should benefit all three sides (seller, buyer and society) and 2) that seeking too much profit is a characteristic of an “evil merchant” who is neglecting the well-being of society.

The need for the refocus on this ancient but noble code of ethics becomes evident when looking at the socio-demographic problems that Mr. Erikawa introduced thereafter. Declining birth rates, a trend that is accompanied by an increasing life expectancy, threatens the future viability of social systems and leads to exploding health care costs. These problems not only concern Japan but also other industrialized countries today.

Since governments alone are not able to tackle these challenges, in his closing remarks, Mr. Erikawa voiced the expectation for businesses to get involved to help overcome the issues.

His expectations towards businesses in general:

  • Increase health of the older workforce before and after retirement by providing a healthy work environment and supporting the prevention of diseases in  the company workforce
  • Increase the compatibility of having children and being an active part of the workforce
  • Re-educate of retirees so that they can positively contribute to the society after retirement
  • Offer employment opportunities for the young generations
  • Commit to company growth and therefore the increased payment of taxes

His expectations from the medical care industry:

  • Help extend the “healthy life expectancy” by implementing preventive medicine
  • Continue medical innovation to provide effective drugs and better treatment methods at reasonable prices

By Marcel-Patrique Taube, ESSEC Business School

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