Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Quarter of Japanese workers trapped at ‘black firms’, says trade union

January 2015

A quarter of Japan’s workers believe they are working at “black companies” — firms that resemble sweatshops and systematically flout labour laws by - among other things - inducing employees to work overtime without pay, according to the Japanese Trade Union Confederation .

In other countries, the term “sweatshop” generally refers to companies in the clothing industry but in Japan, it usually refers to office workers from many different industries and professions.

The Confederation conducted an online survey in November 2014 on 3,000 workers aged 20 to 59 across the nation.
Of the respondents, 26.9% said they think their workplaces are so-called black companies notorious for exploiting workers.

Some 32.7% of all respondents in their 20s and 18.6% of those in their 50s said they were employed at black firms.

Asked why they call their employers black firms, 52.2 % said they are routinely forced to work long hours, 46.3% cited low wages not commensurate with their labour, and 37.4% cited difficulty taking paid leave (multiple answers were allowed).

People satisfied with their personal lives made up 41.1% of those at black companies, nearly 20 points lower than those working elsewhere.

More than 30% said they turn to families and friends for support, while less than 2% cited labour standards supervision offices or labour unions at their workplaces. Some 46.8% said they have never consulted anyone for advice.

In 2012, a group of activists, journalists, and university professors started an annual Black Company Awards to be given to the top black companies. They solicit votes from the public on the “most evil Japanese companies” and aim to raise awareness of abuse in the workplace. In 2013, 8 companies were nominated, including restaurant chains, a clothing retailer, a publishing company, a department store, a university, and a transportation service.

A Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare survey in September 2013 says the results of a survey into 5,111 “black companies” revealed that over 80% of them were engaged in illegal business practices.

The ministry said it would rebuke offending companies and make their names public if violations continued.

When violations at Watami Group, a chain restaurant operator, considered the worst offender, became public, the firm’s revenues dropped significantly.

Watami responded by re-naming restaurants, changed its corporate slogan from “24 Hours a Day, Work to the Death” to “Work is Life Itself,” and carried on as before.

Watami | Asia | Labour Rights

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