by Ewa Nowogorski
Have you ever heard something along the lines of, “This is OO, that kind of thing just doesn’t happen here.” Because a country is highly developed and has strict laws protecting the rights of all people, it does not mean that shady things do not happen behind closed doors.
In Japan, and maybe in every single country in the world, there is modern day slavery – a form of slavery that exploits workers and laborers by either not compensating them properly, forcing them to work in dangerous conditions without proper safety procedures, or forcing them to work longer than legally allowed. Just because slavery is officially abolished, it does not mean that it doesn’t happen anymore, because it still does, and this is one of the dark sides of Japan.
For many years, the Japanese government has been recruiting foreigners to work in the country under a Technical Intern Training Program, which has been long criticized by rights groups at home and abroad as akin to slavery. Officially, the Japanese government claims that the program was designed to bring in interns from developing countries and help them acquire technical skills they can bring back to their homelands to contribute to local economic development.
However, such promise has been dismissed as deceptive. In an island nation with its workforce rapidly aging, many Japanese companies have turned to the intern system for cheap foreign labor. Most trainees are doing the low-paying 3K (dangerous, dirty and difficult in the Japanese language) jobs, most of which the Japanese themselves would not want to do. Though interns are promised to be protected by Japan’s labor laws and minimum wages, the Japanese employers have exploited such foreigners since they are not familiar with the legal rules, not to mention helplessness when it comes to availing themselves of the legal system in Japan to defend their rights.
According to the JITCO, 304 foreign trainees have died since the program started, 29 by suicide. In addition, 87 of the deaths among these young people were blamed on “brain and heart illnesses.” Meanwhile, local news outlet The Japan Times said in a report in October last year that a record 5,803 foreign trainees went missing in 2015 while working in Japan, adding that among them 3,116 were Chinese, followed by 1,705 from Vietnam, 336 from Myanmar, 250 from Indonesia and 102 from Nepal.