The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking but demonstrated a lack of political will to adequately do so among highly vulnerable migrant worker populations. It produced its fourth annual report on government actions to combat trafficking and tracked measures against the stated goals of its anti-trafficking action plan. Authorities raised awareness on trafficking by disseminating information online and through radio programs, posters, and brochures, as well as through leaflets distributed to NGOs, immigration and labor offices, and diplomatic missions in Japan and abroad. The government continued to distribute posters and brochures in transportation hubs and to travelers warning that Japanese citizens could face prosecution if suspected of having engaged in child sex tourism overseas. Authorities continued to advertise the multilingual emergency contact hotline number at local police and immigration offices, through NGOs, and in consultations with source countries’ governments.
The government continued to implement the 2016 Act on Proper Technical Intern Training and Protection of Technical Intern Trainees (TITP reform law), including by allocating more human and financial resources to OTIT—its oversight mechanism; increasing the number of inspections of TITP supervising organizations and worksites; and continuing the issuance of corrective orders for labor violations detected during inspections. The TITP reform law mandated the MHLW approve work plans outlining living conditions, working hours, and other factors developed jointly by incoming TITP participants and their employers; as of December 2018, authorities reported having approved 383,240 of these plans since enactment of the law. With the implementation of the new law, enforcement shifted from the Immigration Services Agency to the Labor Standards Inspection Office within MHLW during the reporting period. The Labor Standards Inspection Office and regional immigration bureaus conducted 7,339 on-site investigations into TITP work sites (5,966 in 2017), leading to “corrective notifications” for 5,160 organizations (4,226 in 2017) and 19 cases of “severe abuses” referred for prosecution. The Immigration Services Agency also notified more than 100 TITP organizations of misconduct, leading to approximately 170 corrective notifications in 2018 (210 in 2017), including two firms who used trainees for unpaid nuclear decontamination work in areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The MOJ reported authorities banned more than 100 organizations from receiving interns in 2018.
Civil society groups lauded the OTIT’s work to increase monitoring of working conditions at TITP factories, but they continued to express concern the OTIT was too understaffed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse, including forced labor, within such a large program—particularly as the number of participants continued to grow. Authorities revoked only eight MHLW-approved work plans for unspecified violations in 2018; some observers expressed these work plans lacked enforceability due to the high number of TITP employers and participants relative to the small number of inspectors. Although the TITP reform law ostensibly expanded participants’ rights to change employers at will once in Japan, observers noted most TITP participants were still barred from doing so; some participants reportedly fled from abusive conditions in their contracted workplaces, thereby violating the terms of their visas and becoming more vulnerable to trafficking in unemployment. Immigration officials issued orientation pamphlets with hotlines and contact information to all incoming TITP participants, but the content in some cases appeared to be intended to discourage them from seeking to change employers due to unfavorable working conditions. TITP employers continued to threaten participants with punitive fees if they attempted to leave. Some participants reported the OTIT was unresponsive to their request for mediation when their employers suddenly changed or terminated their contracts.
In an attempt to prevent TITP participants from incurring high debts in their sending countries, the government maintained memoranda of cooperation with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, India, Laos, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, affirming it would accept TITP trainees only from state-approved organizations that would not charge participants excessive fees. However, some sending organizations in these countries were able to circumvent the fee restrictions and still secure their respective governments’ approval by charging high “commissions” in lieu of fees; trainees from these countries therefore remained vulnerable to debt bondage once in Japan. This was especially true for Vietnamese participants, who constituted the highest proportion of TITP trainees. OTIT authorities could request that sending countries investigate allegations of recruitment fee violations, but the decision to penalize or ban sending organizations for the practice was at the discretion of sending country authorities; OTIT offices in at least one major TITP region did not report requesting any such investigations. Japanese authorities published the names of “discredited” TITP sending organizations on a website, but did not report steps to ensure incoming TITP participants avoided those organizations.
In December 2018, the government passed a new visa regime law that would allow an additional 345,000 migrant workers to enter Japan and fill positions in construction, shipbuilding, nursing care, and 10 other sectors with known labor shortages over the next five years. The new regime would permit qualifying individuals already participating in the TITP to switch their visas to the newly created categories, allowing them to extend their stay in Japan and change jobs within the same sector. However, observers expressed concern that the new visa categories could engender the same vulnerabilities to labor abuses, including forced labor, as those inherent to the TITP. The MOJ issued regulations requiring employers to compensate these workers at a rate equal to or greater than Japan’s minimum wage. However, the law also enabled for-profit employment agencies and individuals to become “registered support organizations”—with no licensing requirements—to liaise between labor recruitment brokerages and employers for a fee. Observers were concerned these service fees would create additional vulnerabilities to debt-based coercion among migrant workers entering under the auspices of the new regime, and that the authorities had not instituted sufficient preventative measures in favor of accelerating the process to assuage urgent labor shortages.
The government had extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute Japanese nationals who engaged in child sexual exploitation abroad, but authorities did not report exercising this jurisdiction during the reporting period. The government conducted joint MHLW and NPA legislative information sessions targeting hundreds of companies involved in the adult film industry in an effort to prevent forced participation in pornography. The government also continued to convene a high-level interagency task force, led by the Minister for Gender Equality, to address violence against children perpetrated through forced participation in pornographic films and the “JK” business. The government did not make significant efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, and many of its awareness-raising content on the JK business appeared to be targeted toward victims, rather than the demand source. Authorities did not make significant efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.