Photo/IllutrationWorkers, including children, repair cars with their bare hands at an automobile maintenance facility in Dhaka. (Provided by Takuya Kawamura)

Three small and midsize auto-related companies in Japan are teaming up with Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus to keep secondhand vehicles running in Bangladesh and to help bring workers there out of poverty.

Sunpower Corp., a used tire exporter based in Yokohama, Up Rising, which sells used tires in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, and Mogee, a car scrapper in Miyagi Prefecture, are expected to establish a joint firm with a Grameen Bank group company to open an auto maintenance facility in the South Asian country in spring at the earliest.

The Grameen Bank was founded by Yunus, an economist, and they shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their idea of running businesses in a way that helps solve social problems, such as poverty, in Bangladesh.

Under the plan, the joint company will repair automobiles with the proper parts, create a clean working environment and provide sufficient wages for employees to escape poverty.

“Properly repairing cars to extend their lives is an attractive business that also has a great social significance,” said Yunus, expressing high expectations for the project. “But the latest move marks just the beginning. I want to expand the business in the future so all sorts of waste from industry will be able to be recycled.”

Sunpower President Takuya Kawamura, who will serve as co-president of the planned corporation, said Bangladesh is rapidly becoming a motorized society.

According to Kawamura, most cars found on Bangladeshi streets are secondhand Japanese-made vehicles. But when they are in need of repairs, it is not clear where the parts are coming from.

Kawamura said some auto parts are falsely touted as having been made in Japan. He also said he witnessed terrible working conditions in Bangladesh repair shops when he visited the nation for an on-site inspection.

“Selling used cars is a well-established business there, but almost no after-sale services are provided because they require much effort,” Kawamura said. “(That type of service) is left untouched.”

The Yunus-proposed social business model is different from ordinary company activities, which are aimed at maximizing profit.

One characteristic of Grameen Bank group companies is that they do not distribute dividends to shareholders.

“Since most small and midsize companies are run by families, we do not need to hear stockholders’ opinions,” Kawamura said. “Such businesses can start social businesses more easily than large firms.”