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FOCUS March 2021 Volume 103

Japan Platform for Migrant Workers towards Responsible and Inclusive Society

Nobuya Takai

The Japan Platform for Migrant Workers towards Responsible and Inclusive Society (Platform) was launched on 16 November 2020, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Global Alliance for Sustainable Supply Chain (ASSC) jointly working as the Secretariat.1

Launching ceremonies of the Platform, 16 November 2020. (Photo: JICA)

The members of the Platform include companies and industrial associations which employ a large number of foreign workers such as Ajinomoto Co., Aeon Co., ASICS Corporation, Teijin Ltd., Toyota Motor Corporation, and Miki House Co., as well as researchers and lawyers.

The Platform aims to cooperate with companies and organizations that subscribe to and practice the Platform’s Code of Conduct, based on international standards, for the improvement of the working and living conditions of foreign workers by having receiving companies engage in responsible and stable reception of these workers including compliance with the laws. By doing so, the Platform aims to achieve a prosperous and sustainable society and make Japan a chosen destination for foreign workers. The Platform sets forth the following Code of Conduct:

We, the members of this Platform, will cooperate with all stakeholders including ministries, local governments, related organizations, civil societies, academics and international organizations and act as follows toward the attainment of the “Society We Aim For.”

  • 1. We will comply with relevant laws and regulations when accepting foreign workers.
  • 2. We will strive to resolve issues by respecting [the] human rights of foreign workers and improving [their] working and living conditions.
  • 3. We will deepen mutual understanding and foster relationships of trust with foreign workers, both in the workplace and real life setting.
  • 4. We will develop human resources who are able to contribute to the development and stability of Japan as well as international community.
  • 5. We will disseminate the Platform initiatives across Japan and throughout the world.

The Platform will actively ask not only its member-companies and organizations, but also those in the supply chain and related companies and organizations to undertake these actions.

Background of the Creation of the Platform – Human Rights Violations against Foreign Technical Intern Trainees

Behind the creation of the Platform is the rising international criticism against the poor treatment of foreign workers including forced labor, discrimination and harassment in Japan. In particular, the human rights abuses against foreign technical intern trainees remain serious.

The 1989 amendment of the Immigration Control Act introduced the residence status of “training.” In 1993, the technical intern training program (with the residence status of designated activities) was created. In 1997, the period of residence of technical interns was set at two years (or a maximum of three years with one-year residence for “training”), and the program continued in this form until the end of June 2010.

In July 2010, the residence status of “technical intern training” was created, and labor laws and regulations were made applicable to the trainees from the start of their work.

In November 2017, the Act on Proper Technical Intern Training and Protection of Technical Intern Trainees (Technical Intern Training Act) was enacted and the period of residence was increased to a maximum of five years.

The technical intern training program, with an almost thirty-year history, has not changed its original “purpose” of international cooperation through transfer of skills to developing countries even after the enactment of the Technical Intern Training Act. In reality, from the beginning, the purpose of the program has been a mere formality, and many of the providers of training (namely, the employers) receive the trainees as cheap labor.

Currently, the technical intern trainees come mainly from Vietnam, China, the Philippines and Indonesia. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were 1.66 million foreign workers in Japan as of end of October 2019, the largest number ever, with 380,000 technical intern trainees that comprise 23.1 percent of this labor force.3 The Ministry of Justice reports that the total number of technical intern trainees has increased to 410,972 by the end of 2019.4

The technical intern trainees often take out loans to pay fees to the sending organizations (the brokers in their home countries) that may amount to several times larger than their annual income in their home countries. When they return home before completing their contracts, aside from the confiscation of guarantee fees paid before leaving home, their contracts may also stipulate that they will have to pay other penalties. In Japan, their residence status requires that they remain with the places of training (their employers) and, as a general rule, are unable to change their employers for better working conditions.

That is why many technical intern trainees do not change jobs or do  not opt to go home, even when they are forced to work long hours, have high accommodation fees deducted from their pay, receive low overtime pay (amounting to only 300 Yen per hour, far lower than the legal minimum wage), or even when they suffer sexual harassment. When they can no longer put up with all these abuses and claim unpaid wages, they are forcefully brought to the airport and placed on a plane home. Such “forced repatriation” has been happening frequently. “Forced repatriation” after requesting paid leave or becoming pregnant has also been reported. Unfortunately, such cases continue to be reported even after the enactment of the Technical Intern Training Act in 2017.

This led the US State Department to cite the Japanese government’s efforts to address the problems in the technical intern training program as insufficient, and downgraded its evaluation of the country’s efforts for the first time in three years from the top Tier 1 to Tier 2 in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report published in June 2020.

Also, according to the “status of inspection cases and cases sent to the Public Prosecutor's Office with regard to ensuring appropriate working conditions for foreign technical interns (2019)” published by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on 9 October 2020, inspections carried out by the Labor Bureaus and Labor Standards Inspection Offices around the country in places where the technical intern trainees work found violations of labor standards-related laws and regulations in 71.9 percent of the workplaces (6,769 workplaces), which were issued guidance notices.

The situation has worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic as companies faced economic downturns and bankruptcies. There are numerous reports in the media of many technical intern trainees remaining in difficulties without being able to work or go home.

Aim to Achieve through the Platform

Faced with the international criticism for the abuses of the human rights of foreign workers, companies in Japan are increasingly scrutinizing whether or not the foreign workers they received or in their supply-chains are facing poor conditions. Due to this criticism of the technical intern training program from abroad, leaving the abuses of human rights of the technical intern trainees unaddressed would damage the reputation of the companies, as public concern for human rights abuses by businesses increases. This is especially true for global companies.

With this background in mind, it seems that the companies have accelerated their move to establish and participate in the Platform that would create the conditions for Japan to become the “trusted and chosen destination for foreign workers.” Meanwhile, the members of the Platform also include those who have been active in protecting the rights of foreign workers including technical intern trainees, such as Attorney Shoichi Ibusuki and this author.

The Platform provides information using smartphone applications to help foreign workers get better working conditions as well as offer recommendations on how to solve issues to government organs both in Japan and abroad based on study of complaints received through smartphone.

It hopes to create a mechanism for collecting the “real voices” of the foreign workers in order to formulate recommendations based on the actual working conditions of these workers, and thereby identify the problems in the current system of receiving foreign workers including the technical intern training program and create a system in which the rights of foreign workers are protected.

Through its activities, the Platform hopes that the cooperation among the government, workers and employers will bring an end to the exploitation by recruiters and sending organizations and slave-like working conditions of foreign workers, and in the future, abolish the technical intern training program that is systematically prone to human rights abuses. It aims to put in place a system for receiving workers that protects the rights of foreign workers, including the abolition of brokers and recognition of the freedom to change jobs.

 

Nobuya Takai, since becoming a lawyer in 2007, has been working on labor and human rights issues of Foreign Technical Intern Trainees. At present, he is the Secretary-General of the Lawyers' Network for Foreign Technical Interns.

For further information please contact: Japan Platform for Migrant Workers towards Responsible and Inclusive Society, 1-653-7-202 Marukodori, Nakahara-ku, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa 211-0006 Japan; ph  81-44 (982) 1729; fax 81-44 (982) 1792; e-mail: ask@jp-mirai.org; https://jp-mirai.org/en.

 

Endnotes
1    See Japan Platform for Migrant Workers towards Responsible and Inclusive Society,  https://jp-mirai.org/en/.
2    Code of Conduct, https://jp-mirai.org/en/code-of-conduct/.
3    See the website of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (in Japanese), www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/newpage_09109.html.
4    See the website of the Ministry of Justice  (in Japanese), www.e-stat.go.jp/stat-search/files?page=1&layout=datalist&toukei=00250012&tstat=000001018034&cycle=1&year=20190&month=24101212&tclass1=000001060399.


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