“Trafficking in persons” refers to “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” “The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime” was adopted at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2000 and entered into force in 2003, giving the first common international definition of "trafficking in persons.” Japan signed it in 2002 and accepted it in 2017.
The U.S. Department of State reported in the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report that traffickers of sending countries and Japan have abused the Japanese government-operated Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) to exploit overseas-based technical intern trainees. Japan has received unceasing reports of abuse and forced labor among TITP participants under government sponsorship and almost every year's proposal to Japan to improve the treatment of foreigners on the program. But authorities have taken no action to identify any trafficking case or victims in TITP. Although it is common knowledge that there is forced labor within the TITP program, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any persons violating labor standards laws and regulations within the TITP program. The ministry of labor informed that sending labor standards inspectors conducted 8,124 inspections of TITP workplaces in 2020, finding 5,752 employers of TITP participants, or 70.8 percent of those inspected, violating the labor laws. Although the Labour Standard Bureau referred 36 cases to prosecutors for investigation in 2020, the government did not reveal whether the referrals were for labor trafficking crimes. Authorities have been reluctant to protect victims of trafficking within the TITP. The government did not even try formally to identify victims. According to the government, 8,000 TITP participants disappeared from their workplaces in 2020. Some were considered escaping from exploitative or abusive conditions and were likely unidentified victims. Authorities went on arresting and deporting TITP participants who fled from their workplaces. Some labor contracts included illegal automatic repatriation clauses for the intern trainees who became pregnant or contracted illnesses while working in Japan. Besides, the bilateral agreements between sending countries and Japan on TITP are useless to prevent from payment of unreasonably high fees to intermediary agencies in their home countries, which has caused debt-based human trafficking in TITP participants. Japan is also taking a passive approach to the ILO Convention on Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the Field of Work. International laws have priority over domestic laws but the Constitution.
The Technical Intern Training Program was established as a formal program in 1993 to transfer industrial and vocational skills, technologies, or knowledge from Japan to developing countries and regions and promote international cooperation by contributing to the development of human resources to be effectively utilized for economic and industrial development in the areas. The Technical Intern Training Act says in Article 3, Paragraph 2 that a fundamental principle of the program is that technical training shall not be conducted as a means of adjusting labor supply and demand. That means the program is not allowed to use to solve Japan's labor shortage at a low cost. Japanese labor-related regulations are applied to the overseas-based trainees just like Japanese nationals except during the lecture period after they enter Japan. Host organizations have obligations to give the same treatment as that Japanese employees to the trainees. Technical intern trainees must receive no less remuneration than Japanese nationals for the same jobs. The training period is a maximum of five years. With the resident status of Technical Intern Training No. 1, technical intern trainees can acquire fundamental skills and abilities at an accepting organization during the first year after entering Japan and taking lectures. The trainees who have passed the basic level of the national trade skills test will obtain the resident status of Technical Intern Training No. 2 and can keep training to acquire more advanced skills for two more years. Technical intern trainees who have completed the three-year intern training can step up to the resident status called Technical Intern Training No. 3. It allows them to continue the training for another two years after a short return to their home country if they have passed the advanced level of the national trade skills test. Technical Intern Training 3 can be given only under excellent implementing and supervising organizations. The trainees can choose from 156 operations in 85 job categories, including agriculture, textile, and construction work, as of March 16, 2021.
There were 2,576,622 mid-to-long-term residents and 309,282 special permanent residents such as Koreans and Chinese people who have resided in Japan since before World War II, and their descendants, adding up to 2,885,904 foreigners registered as residents in Japan as of the end of June 2020. Statics of the residence status found that the number of people with "Technical Intern Training" was the second-highest at 402,422 or 13.9%, followed by that with Permanent Resident with 800,872, or 27.8%. According to the Ministry of Justice, the highest number of technical intern trainees by nationality was 208,879 of Viet Nam, after 63,741 of China and 34,459 of Indonesia. More than half of TITP participants were from Viet Nam. Until 2015, China was sending the highest number of technical interns.
The memorandum of cooperation on the Technical Intern Training Program says the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan and the ministries concerned of a sending country shared the view that the purpose of the Technical Intern Training Program is to transfer technical skills, techniques and knowledge to the sending country, to contribute to the human resource development by which the development of the economy of the sending country would be led and thus to promote international cooperation. Many ministries of Japan are deeply related to the program, so the ministry that shall be ultimately responsible for the performance and results is not identical. The Ministry of Justice reported in a survey conducted between January 2017 and September 2018 that 5,218 TITP participants had disappeared from their worksite because of fraudulent acts on the program by their host organizations. They pleaded guilty at hearing by immigration control officers to mistreating them, with offenses, including minimum wage violation and illegal overtime. Immigration Services Agency of Japan reported in March 2021 that the number of victims of human trafficking, including sexual services and forced labor, who received protection in 2020, was just eight. All the victims were female Filipinos.
As mentioned earlier, there are many cases where TITP participants bear a large number of expenses required for commissions and guarantee deposits as a means to prevent their disappearance during the training period by sending organizations. Sending agencies and accepting organizations are prohibited to burden technical intern trainees other than necessary expenses, including guarantee deposits and penalties. In Viet Nam, many intermediary agencies collect nearly one million yen, around 8,900 US dollars as of October 10, 2021, of guarantee money from trainee candidates. In the country, 25% of the population earns less than 9,240,000 VND, about 400 US dollars per month as of October 10, 2021. Most TITP participants come from poor rural areas. The total amount of the expenses paid to the agencies is at least equivalent to the wages of 22 months. The Technical Intern Training Program-related business is growing fast in the country. But Korea eliminated intermediary exploitation. In 2004, the Korean government launched a new system of accepting foreign workers, called a work permit program, to be responsible for the receipt. Companies with less than 5 Korean nationals are usually not able to sponsor foreign employees at the program. There is no intern training program in Korea. It is appropriate to exclude brokers that disregard the rules while stabilizing the supply of workers. Seoul now places its government offices in sending countries to secure fairness in the system. In Japan, employers force intern trainees to work overtime. However, no employer can make employees, including technical intern trainees, work overtime without agreements under Article 36 of the Labor Standards Act. The act is a document concluded between an employer and a labor union or a group representative organizing more than half of the workers to allow the employer to have the employees work overtime. In the first place, why do the intern trainees need to work overtime? Even for the Japanese, the Article 36 Agreement amounts to a virtual admission that companies can force their employees to work without rational reasons and corporate efforts for a long time. Is it possible to eliminate long working hours in Japan? Some European countries, such as Germany, have been characterized by labor policies protecting workers, including shorter working hours, and have higher per capita GDP, compared with Japan. Most intern trainees are doing simple jobs. The program aims to transfer industrial and vocational skills, technologies, or knowledge from Japan to developing countries and regions and to promotes international cooperation by contributing to the development of human resources. Being engaged in simple jobs for a long time is beside the purpose. It would be easier to do in their home countries in cooperation with NGOs or JICA or with online training. It can be government-based fraud if authorities know that there is forced labor within the TITP program and the situation has almost not improved.
The International Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in December 1948 by the United Nations to establish an international system to secure human rights, rather than depending on each state. Some of the international human rights instruments that the UN has adopted contain an individual complaints procedure in each Optional Protocol, which is a mechanism where an individual, whose rights under the international human rights treaties are violated but can not be recovered by any relief system in the country, such as by going to court, can directly submit a petition to human rights treaty bodies for relief. Japan has not yet accepted the procedure. Likewise, there are national human rights institutions that allow the right to petition for human rights relief, whatever nationality is to anybody living in the country in 118 countries, including Korea, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, across the world, but not in Japan, as of August 3, 2021.
The UN and the US Department of State are demanding tackling human trafficking problems in TITP participants more seriously from Japan. It emerged that TITP participants had been made to be engaged in radioactive decontamination work at Fukushima in 2018. No technical intern trainee can choose a workplace. Some implementing and supervising organizations of Japan claim that many industries, including agriculture, cannot exist without the trainees, and related products would be sold at much higher prices. It can't be justified to sacrifice the foreign trainees to live a rich and comfortable life and buy products and services at lower prices. Is this happening in Japan? Global clothing brands, including Uniqlo, are criticized for selling goods produced through suspected forced labor in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and many users join the calls for boycotts. Although Japan's mass media report on political and economic scandals in Korea on a large scale, they handle human trafficking in TITP participants on a much smaller scale.
Support Organizations for TITP Victims
Japan National Federation of Labor Unions Osaka : https://www.rengo-osaka.gr.jp/whatsnew/data/200327-29.html (Nine languages available) TEL : 06-6949-0005
Facebook Foreign Technical Intern Trainees Sien : https://ja-jp.facebook.com/jissyuseisien/
Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move : https://www.jcarm.com
Advocacy Network for Foreign Trainees : http://k-kenri.net/qa-english/index.html TEL : 03-3836-9061
Lawyers' Network for Foreign Technical Intern Trainees : https://kenbenren2008.wordpress.com (written in Japanese) TEL : 03-6427-5902, 052-414-5901, 011-231-1888
NPO POSSE : https://foreignworkersupport.wixsite.com/mysite/english Vietnamese and some other languages available.
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