Spotlight Japan: the 2011 TIP Report and Polaris Project Japan’s Work

Since the release of the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report three weeks ago, we’ve been busy processing the recommendations both here in the U.S. and in our Japan office. Polaris Project Japan, the biggest anti-trafficking non-profit in the country, has taken stock of the state of human trafficking in Japan, which remains a top destination country and has a unique set of struggles owing to its cultural and economic climate.

Japan retained its position as a Tier 2 country, where it has been found consistently since the report began in 2000 with the exception of a 2004 dip to Tier 2 Watch List. This year’s report on Japan focused much of its attention on labor trafficking, especially on Japan’s Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program. This “foreign trainee program” should ideally provide a valid work training program for low-skilled foreign workers who would normally have difficulty obtaining a Japanese visa. The reality of the program, however, is that it is rife with cases of exploitation and trafficking. The program counted 35 deaths among its participants in one year alone, attributed to overwork, workplace accidents, heart and brain ailments, and suicide. Polaris Project Japan has long recognized the dangers inherent in the program, and met with survivors trafficked under the ITTIP at their former work site in 2009. Of course, this spotlight on the prevalence of labor trafficking incidents within Japan does not detract from the severity of its sex trafficking crisis, which persists thanks to high demand and inadequate regulation of the commercial sex industry.

There are many areas in which Japan can and should improve its work against human trafficking, but one that Polaris Project Japan has identified as especially pressing is simply raising public awareness. The government produces informative posters and cards annually, but then fails to distribute these materials in the regions where human trafficking is actually taking place and entirely ignores forms of media with a broader reach. Polaris Project Japan works to spread awareness through monthly seminars and frequent speaking engagements, but as it remains the sole anti-human trafficking NGO in the country, a talk or presentation from Polaris Project Japan is often the first time audience members realize trafficking is happening in Japan. The international community, in contrast, is well aware of Japan’s high rates of trafficking. For 11 consecutive years, Japan has been classified in the TIP Report as a prominent destination country for trafficking, and the International Labor Organization, Human Rights Watch and even the UN have done investigations in Japan, resulting in detailed reports of the situation. Yet domestically, Japan still lacks a national or even regional campaign by either the public or private sectors.

In addition to raising public consciousness, Japan must improve its policies toward victims. While Polaris Project Japan has worked on 38 trafficking and exploitation cases, fewer than ten were ever reported to the police. Why? Because the survivors themselves did not wish to alert authorities, finding that the protection and compensation they would receive from the government was not worth the efforts of identifying themselves as victims. The TIP Report identified this weakness in its Protection section (one of the 3Ps), noting that the majority of victims cannot receive compensation, legal or medical services, or long term support, providing a disincentive for victims to come forwards. Instead of law enforcement, Polaris Project Japan works with local welfare centers, embassies, and the police and non-government groups of foreign-born trafficking victims’ home countries.

Besides proper protection and reintegration services for victims, Polaris Project Japan feels strongly that its national hotline, like the one Polaris Project operates in America, is a necessary tool both for victims and to enable everyone in Japan to report signs of trafficking. While the Japanese NGO field is developing, it is small when compared against its American counterpart, especially on issues relating to human rights. Polaris Project Japan believes that now is the time for government, corporations, the media and Japanese society to take a sincere look at the international criticism and recommendations and take substantial action to protect foreign victims of trafficking as well as the many Japanese women and children trafficked for sex internally.

Stay tuned for future posts analyzing and unraveling the 2011 TIP Report!

Photo Credit: bluebirdluxe

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