photo by Steffen Zahn
In August 2017, a TV program titled Following Workers in the “Desperate Workplace” was broadcast on a series called Dawn of Gaia. The word “desperate workplace” does not point to a labor site in a developing country; rather, it refers to the situation of migrants working as trainees in Japan’s technical intern training program.
Currently, more than 200,000 intern trainees labor in various workplaces in Japan to acquire advanced skills and knowledge, and to become resources responsible for economic development in their home countries. However, various problems in the actual state of the program have long raised criticisms both at home and abroad.
Recently, a report calling for ameliorative measures was published by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) in the UK:
Learning Experience? Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program and Challenge of Protecting the Rights of Migrant Workers
In recent years, attention to human rights problems in international mega-sporting events including the Olympic Games is growing, spurred in part by a report calling for improvements in the 2020 Tokyo games.
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare audited the working environment surrounding technical intern trainees, and found situations in which 70% of the facilities were in violation. The main violations are (1) excessive working hours (23.8%), (2) safety standards (19.3%), and (3) underpayment of wages (13.6%).
Some would say that working hours and wages are not a problem limited to intern trainees. In fact there are cases such as 15 working hours a day without a break, monthly wages of 65,000 yen, and overtime pay of only 300 yen. Also, there are migrant workers in so-called forced labor situations, with no freedom to change workplaces during the planned period of two years, unable to escape because they are involved in debt to the dispatching agency when leaving their home countries. Moreover, there is also the question of whether the program is serving for its original purpose: helping trainees acquire advanced skills and knowledge.
Forced labor and immigrant workers are often considered foreign to Japan, and the situation here tends to be overlooked. There are cases in which companies investigating their domestic supply chains have found human rights problems involving migrant workers. As a matter of fact, it seems that it is impossible to grasp whether or not the technical intern trainee program is working. Japanese companies that tackle socially responsible procurement need to further focus their attention on their supply chains.
Under such circumstances, there is a movement to apply for acceptance of intern trainees even in the operation of convenience stores. Rather than expanding the use of this problematic program, Japan needs to return to the intrinsic purpose of the program and call for drastic improvements to be a part of international contributions.