Ogata speaks on human trafficking in Japan at ICAPP workshop

March 13, 2016
Japanese Communist Party International Commission Chair Ogata Yasuo on March 12 attended a workshop on human trafficking held by the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and delivered a speech regarding human trafficking in Japan and measures to address this issue.

Ogata reported that quite a number of people suffer from various types of trade of humans in Japan such as sexual exploitation in the sex industry and labor exploitation of foreigners under the government-initiated foreign trainee program.

He pointed out that Japan regards the human trafficking issue as a “hidden social problem” despite the fact that the county has long been criticized by the international community for not fully complying “with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”.

In addition to international cooperation to tackle the issue, Ogata highlighted the urgent need for Japan, a major destination country, to make efforts to put a stop to human rights violations. It is also necessary for the government of Japan to take comprehensive actions which include the strengthening of law enforcement and the promotion of a poverty reduction policy in order to eradicate human trafficking. What is important is, he added, that Japan must make more efforts to increase public awareness of the issue, support civic movements opposing exploitation, and increase collaboration between political parties and NGOs.

Touching upon the wartime Japanese military “comfort women” system, Ogata stated that “[t]he core of the ‘comfort women’ issue is institutional and systematic exploitation of women and utter denial of their dignity by the Japanese military, or the state-power of Japan.” He said that this issue is still unresolved as the pain of the victimized women has not healed and their honor and dignity have not yet been fully restored.

The full text of his report is as follows:

Speech at the 3rd ICAPP Workshop on Human Trafficking
Ogata Yasuo
Vice Chairperson, Executive Committee, Japanese Communist Party
Former Member of the House of Councilors of Japan
Islamabad, Pakistan
12 March 2016

Honorable chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to discuss the topic of human trafficking today, and I appreciate the initiative taken by the ICAPP Workshop on this serious issue. And allow me to express my sincere gratitude to Pakistani political parties for hosting the 3rd Workshop.

We have great interest in sharing each other’s knowledge and experiences on this global issue toward our shared goal to eliminate human trafficking and ensure that human dignity and fundamental human rights are protected in our regions and throughout world.

Japan is a country where sexual exploitation of women and children, Japanese and foreign, and labor exploitation of foreigners, both men and women, is rampant. Japan is a destination, source, and transit country in human trafficking with one of the worst records among major developed countries.

Japan has faced sharp criticism as it “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” (Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S Department of State). The Modern Slavery Index issued by the Walk Free Foundation in 2014 shows that Japan ranks 22nd in the number of “modern slaves” among 167 countries. However, efforts to raise public awareness on the issue by media and others concerned have been inadequate in regard to the seriousness of the matter that the human trafficking issue has become a “hidden social problem” in the nation.

Today, I would like to bring up the problem of sexual exploitation in the sex industry and illegal businesses and the situation of labor exploitation of foreigners in the “Technical Intern Training Program” run by the government.

Sexual exploitation in Japan has grown along with the commercialization of sex as seen in the huge sex industry and amounts of readily available pornography.

With more than 30,000 registered sex related businesses and more than 100,000 estimated workers, the sex industry runs openly in Japan. As an inevitable result, this industry, in combination with organized crime and illegal businesses, has become fertile soil for human trafficking of foreign and Japanese women and children who are exploited by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, of fraud, and abuse of power associated with their positions of vulnerability.

We have found a number of cases that constitute grave offences to human dignity and fundamental human rights. International organizations such as the International Labor Organization, NGOs and media reveal that brutal and totally unacceptable crimes occur in Japan which is supposedly governed under the rule of law with the Anti- Prostitution Law which was enacted in 1956 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ratified in 1985.

Let me cite an example from media reports: a 16-year-old high school student was forced to work as a sex slave for years after she was raped in a town and her personal data was stolen from her student ID and mobile phone. Just before entering her senior year in high school, her desperate bid to escape from the sex work was accepted by the “organization”, seemingly because the organization had other high school girls like her to take her place. However, even after quitting, she had to continue to work in the sex industry in order to pay the exorbitant amount of money demanded by the organization to delete her pornographic videos that had been uploaded to the Internet.

NGOs have also found many cases which indicate that Japanese women were victimized by tricks used by recruiters so that women believed they would work as “fashion models” or “actresses”. But in reality they were threatened and forced to be in porno movies usually under false contracts. These heinous acts are conducted against the backdrop of the existence of the approximately 400-million-dollar porno industry and the flood of child pornography available in Japan.

Human trafficking beyond national borders has been grave as well. Foreign victims of human trafficking in Japan are mainly from developing countries in Asia. They are recruited as migrant workers, but after arriving in Japan, they become aware that they are under a huge amount of debt and are put under many forms of threat or coercion, and are then forced to work in prostitution or sex industry.

The Japanese NGO Lighthouse estimates there are more than 54,000 Japanese and foreign victims of sexual exploitation in Japan. Walk Free estimates there is 240,000 modern slaves in our country including victims of sexual exploitation. The actual extent of suffering is so grave that it is hard to imagine.

Under the current laws of Japan, those acts may constitute crimes of rape, child pornography, blackmail or others, but may not be prosecuted under the crime of human trafficking due to the narrow legal definition of “human trafficking” which punishes only for the buying and selling of a person. The police officially confirmed only 44 cases of human trafficking in 2015.

In regard to the human trafficking issue, I would like to take this opportunity to touch upon a serious historical issue related with the matter. That is the so-called “comfort women” issue. Some of you here might wonder why the “comfort women” issue caused by the Imperial Army of Japan during WWII still matters even now, more than 15 years into the 21st century.

This grave issue is a very contemporary matter as the issue of modern human trafficking is highlighting the ignorance of the 20th century’s achievements in promoting fundamental human rights and the right to dignity of women and all people.

I have addressed the “comfort women” issue as Chairperson of the International Commission of the JCP as well as a Member of the House of Councilors of Japan for years after I first heard the serious accusations related to the matter raised by members of Korean NGOs at a conference of the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in 1992.

The core of the “comfort women” issue is institutional and systematic exploitation of women and utter denial of their dignity by the Japanese military, or the state-power of Japan. As the 1993 statement issued by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono admitted, “comfort women” were women and girls who were taken to the “comfort stations” which were built and managed, directly or indirectly, by the Army and held in custody to be forced to serve as sex slaves.

Some Japanese politicians and even cabinet members who want to whitewash Japan’s heinous wartime policy and its responsibility have been arguing over the definition of “coercion” in order to deny the coercive nature of the matter. The Government of Japan was unwilling to apologize to or compensate the victims. This attitude of the Japanese government is once again a denial of the right to dignity of the victims, an obstacle in the way of the international efforts to promote human rights and eliminate human trafficking, and what has left the “comfort women” issue still unresolved even today.

Recently, Japan and the Republic of Korea agreed to a “settlement” of the issue. While the bilateral relations between both nations which deteriorated due to the Abe administration’s inflexibility has been improved by the “settlement”, there is a long way to go for all former “comfort women” to feel that their honor and dignity have been fully restored.

Despite the fact that Japan, as offender, is responsible to implement the “settlement”, a Japanese official denied in effect the core point of the 1993 Kono Statement by saying at a recent U.N. meeting that the government could not find out any evidence of coercive transportation of women by military personnel or authorities. The coercive nature in this matter has been widely accepted in the international community and recognized even in court rulings in Japan. The denial of this core point by the government strongly indicates its lack of sincerity to honor the full implementation of the “settlement”. It also raises doubts over Japan’s determination to protect women and all people from sexual exploitation and human trafficking, a modern form of slavery.

On March 7th, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) pointed out in its concluding observations on Japan's seventh and eighth periodic reports: “The issue of 'comfort women' gives rise to serious violations that have a continuing effect on the rights of victims and survivors of those violations that were perpetrated by the state party's military ". The committee called on Japanese leaders and public officials to “desist from making disparaging statements” regarding the former “comfort women” and urged the Japanese government to “recognize the right of victims to a remedy and accordingly provide full and effective redress and reparation”.

As this issue is directly linked to Japan’s war crimes, I would like to emphasize that the issue will be never resolved unless the Government of Japan shows sincere remorse for its actions during the war.

In addition to sexual exploitation, the forced labor problem is another form of human trafficking that exists in Japan. In particular, the government’s Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) that was introduced in 1993 has provided a loophole in the Labor Standard Acts which has led to rampant forced labor in Japan as a result.

Under the name of “internship”, migrant workers from Asian countries work under forced labor conditions in factories or farms. In some cases, they are forced to work even over 20 hours per day or without days off for very low pay far below the minimum wage. A journalist reported that one factory in the central part of Japan fines “technical interns” for going to the toilet in order to keep them working at the production line.

It is not rare that employers take measures to prevent foreign workers from escaping or communicating with people outside by the use of an automatic wage deposit system at the company or by confiscating interns’ passports. Worse, sexual harassment and violence against interns also occurs due to their positions of vulnerability.

There are 170,000 foreign “technical interns” nationwide, many of whom are de facto migrant workers (2014). Most of them are from other East Asian countries which have become a major source of cheap workers without rights in Japan with its shrinking native labor force. The number of missing interns who escaped from their hosts amounts to approximately 5,000 annually (the Ministry of Justice, 2015).

Although labor authorities have not effectively monitored and regulated the program, it still found that 76% (2,977/3,918) of the host organizations violated the Labor Standard Act last year.

This is nothing less than de facto labor slavery approved by the law-based institution which was originally intended to “help young people in developing courtiers learn technical skills”.

Human trafficking is a global challenge that needs to be overcome and it is crystal clear that international cooperation among various parties concerned is vital. Effective cooperation among nations which are source and destination countries is also essential in order to implement appropriate protection of these workers against human rights violations. Sharing information in regard to the real situation of workers and enhancing collaboration to prevent forced labor and human trafficking in any form are especially helpful.

At the same time, I would like to emphasize the urgent need of enhanced efforts by Japan itself in order to eliminate the violation of universal human rights through both sexual and labor exploitation.

The Government of Japan has made some efforts to tackle the human trafficking problem by developing a national plan of action, setting up a governmental committee for combating trafficking in humans, amending laws on immigration, and criminalizing the buying and selling persons. However, the government has yet to fulfill its responsibility to meeting with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Pushed by the widespread criticism on the Intern Training Program, the Government submitted a reform bill which includes measures to strengthen the monitoring of and control over the program. However, at the same time, without a fundamental review of the program, the bill allows the expansion of the scale of the program and the total number of interns involved, period under contract and jobs available in response to requests from employers.

As we touched upon some cases of human trafficking committed in Japan, we can clearly recognize the need for comprehensive actions ranging from strengthening law enforcement, combating organized crime, regulating illicit industries, narrowing income gaps, eliminating poverty (in both developing and developed countries), enhancing public awareness of human rights, especially of women and children, and promoting a healthy, just, progressive society and culture. The government has primary responsibility to take comprehensive actions to that end.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight the importance of raising public awareness and promoting collaboration with civil societies. In a survey taken in Japan in 2012 by Lighthouse, it was found that 81.3% of respondents were not aware that Japanese are victims of human trafficking inside Japan. We need to increase people’s awareness drastically in order to increase public participation in and support for comprehensive actions to combat human trafficking, especially at the civil society level. As I mentioned above, civil societies and NGOs have been playing leading roles in this effort ahead of governments. We believe that cooperation and collaboration between political parties and civil society will enhance our capacity to tackle the challenges. And we will make every effort to fulfill our responsibility to protecting the human dignity of all.

Thank you for your kind attention.

The Central Committee of the Japanese Communist Party
4-26-7 Sendagaya,Shibuya-ku,Tokyo 151-8586