Former POWs, heirs file slave-labor lawsuits against Japanese companies

Tuesday, December 7th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Eleven survivors of Japanese prison camps marked Pearl Harbor Day on Tuesday by filing two lawsuits accusing corporations of forcing them into slave labor during World War II. A third suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on behalf of the heirs of former prisoners of war.

The suits, which seek unspecified damages, are the latest of about a half-dozen filed in California accusing Japanese companies of forcing captured Americans to work under brutal conditions in mines and factories. "I'd like to see justice. It's been a long time coming," said Johnny Johnson, 79, of Sandy, Utah, at a news conference outside downtown Superior Court where the suits were filed. His suit against Nippon Steel claims that the former Army Air Corps airplane mechanic and five other servicemen were sent to a steel mill in Japan following their capture in the Philippines. The class-action suit also names Nippon Steel.

The suits were filed under a recently passed California law that allows victims of slave labor to sue multinational corporations instate court. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who appeared at the news conference,said he has asked Secretary of State Madeline Albright to begin negotiations with the Japanese government to win compensation for former POWs.