Lonely work: Obayashi bans staff from socialising with competitors

Employees of Japanese contractor Obayashi have been forbidden from drinking in bars with people from other contractors as the company tries to repair its image after a major bid-rigging scandal.

The ban comes into force tomorrow, after which workers will have to decline invitations to social events if they know that other companies’ employees will be present.

Obayashi, which has admitted colluding with others in bidding for work on a maglev rail mega scheme, will even spy on employees’ emails to catch anyone planning an off-limits beer-tryst.

The ban formerly applied to Obayashi’s salespeople, but now it extends to all employees.

It covers all events except casual meetings hosted by the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors, and these will be allowed only if employees inform Obayashi in advance.

An artificial intelligence program will be deployed to spot the names of forbidden companies in employees’ emails in an effort to detect transgressions before they take place.  

Obayashi will also intensify monitoring of all internal emails.

The company has put in place a leniency scheme for those caught in a dangerous liaison if they confess their sins, and whistleblowers will face "no disadvantageous treatment whatsoever".

Both public and private projects will subject to occasional "walk-through audits", in which the entire bidding process is scrutinised; in the past this was done only on public sector schemes.

In March, all of Japan’s largest general contractors were indicted for carving up work on the maglev. As well as Obayashi, Shimizu, Taisei and Kajima were accused of collusion. Officials from the four companies are said to have met at Tokyo restaurants to discuss bid-rigging.

Image: In future, Obayashi staff will have to watch whom they socialise with (Josh Berglund/Creative Commons)

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