On paper, Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program aims to provide workers from developing countries with skills. On the ground, though, the program has fallen short of its lofty goal, perpetuated a form of modern slavery
, and become a breeding ground for human rights violations.
Critics say that under the program, “most of the interns wind up doing repetitive work
that does not teach them anything of marketable value for when they return to their home countries,” reports The Diplomat
. Worse, the program is rife with human rights violations and serves as a cover for companies to import cheap labor.
Japan introduced the program in 1993 to bring young workers from developing Asian countries to Japanese farms and enterprises. By the end of 2021, some 280,000 foreign trainees were working in various fields, reports The Mainichi Shimbun
However, violations of labor laws, including illegal levels of overtime, have been found in 70 percent
of the businesses hiring trainees that have been subjected to the labor ministry’s supervision and administrative guidance.
Over the years, trainees have come forward with stories of rampant abuses ranging from dismissals
to harassment and unpaid wages. Since trainees are not allowed to switch jobs for three years, they may be trapped in dismal work conditions. In one documented case, NHK World
reports, a Vietnamese trainee at a construction company suffered two years
of physical abuse at the hands of his Japanese coworkers.
Inadequate support for the trainees has left them vulnerable to harm. In another case, a Vietnamese trainee became pregnant and believed a rumor
that she would, as a result, be sent home. She hid her pregnancy from coworkers and killed her newborn baby.
Last year, 7,167 foreign trainees
in Japan went missing, according to the country’s Immigration Services Agency. Experts believe they abandoned their placements to search for better-paying jobs to help repay their huge debts.
A recent government report
revealed that more than half of the trainees — 55 percent — borrowed an average of about 520,000 yen (US$3,907) before arriving in Japan, mainly to pay the sending institutions or intermediaries covering their expenses. Vietnamese trainees are saddled with the most debt. They owe an average sum of about 670,000 yen (US$5,031).
The contentious program landed the country in Tier 2 of the US State Department’s annual anti-human trafficking report. The report
pointed out that the government “did not take any measures to hold recruiters and employers accountable for labor trafficking crimes under this system.”
On July 29
, the Japanese government said it will launch a full-scale review of the flawed program by the end of the year.