Progress and Subjugation

Trafficking of women, children and men

Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Michael McDonnell

The introduction to the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report notes, “The common denominator of trafficking scenarios is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for profit. A victim can be subjected to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, or both”. In Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo, Rhacel Parreñas explains the identification of the majority of Filipino women working as hostesses in Japan as victims of trafficking, and how the clampdown in visa sponsorship that resulted has in fact been detrimental to their freedom overall. According to Parreñas, the women she encountered who came to Japan to work, came of their own free will and many already knew what to expect from having spoken to women who have previously made the journey. They enter Japan with legitimate entertainer visas and employers willing to sponsor them.

She states that rather it is the restrictive conditions of these visas that make women more susceptible to forced labour and exploitation. For example, in order to be granted a permanent spouses visa, the applicant has to remain married to a Japanese citizen for five years creating a situation where the wife is indebted to the husband. If an employer asks a worker to do a job she is not comfortable with for whatever reason she cannot leave the job without becoming an undocumented illegal worker, becoming reliant on an employer to provide both work and protection from being found out. These unbalanced relationships are, according to Parreñas, what increase the likelihood of forced labour and abuse, not the position as a Hostess itself.

This exploitation of vulnerable workers exists all around the globe. In Bangladesh, workers, more than 85% of whom are female, in clothing factories many making goods on behalf of international sportswear companies are still paid below the minimum wage, are forced to work overtime, and are sometimes verbally and physically abused. Attempts to protest or strike are met with police brutality. Their dependence on this money to support their families prevents them from leaving.

HK Victoria Park Philipino Migrant Workers

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The anti-poverty charity War on Want, who are involved in ending the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers in the clothing industry, advise against boycotts of the goods produced in these factories as it could lead to job losses for the people they are trying to protect. War on Want are instead pushing for a change in the practices of these sportswear companies and the guarantee of improved pay and conditions for the workers.

The labeling of migrant workers from the Philippines as victims of trafficking by TIP led to a 90% drop in women being sponsored to work in the hostess industry further reducing their options for advancement. The answer to this problem is not to crack down on the employment of foreign workers in this industry but, much like in the case of the Bangladesh, to improve the conditions for the workers. By giving more control to the women working in the hostess industry to choose their own employers and to change jobs if they want the likelihood of exploitation would be greatly reduced.


Parreñas, Rhacel. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

War on Want. (2012). Race to the Bottom. Available:

Balancing work and private life

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

I have had a wish to have a job in the media since I was a junior high school student. This March, I worked at a CM production for a week in Tokyo as an intern in order to take a step toward my job hunting. However, after this real experience, I think it’s crucial for us to consider carefully whether the job is a “black company” or not.

A “black company” is an illegal corporation where employees are forced to work overtime or even on holiday without overtime pay. In some black companies, there is also harassment toward recruits in the work place, That is to say it constitutes the worst working environment. It’s similar to “sweatshops” (factories where employees are compelled to work for hours with low wage). However, we can see the characteristic point of “black companies” is different from others. The victims of general poor offices such as “sweatshop” are temps, whereas the ones of “black companies” are regular employees.

This word is a new Japanese term, but it has appeared not suddenly but step by step, since the change of Japanese employment form. In my opinion, the increasing number of black companies results from a recession and job shortage. In two decades after the Japanese bubble burst in 1991, many 4th year university students struggle with job hunting. Such students long for occupations and tend to consider carelessly their future office because they are panic and in a hurry. This is when “black companies” begin to make use of them. I assume the rate of job shortage would be proportional to the number of black companies. Furthermore, almost all of the recruits in black companies quit after a couple of years due to the poor working conditions. It brings an increasing number of unemployed persons and invites a vicious circle.

I insist that we should not only improve the rate of employment temporarily with temps, but make each company obey the Labor Standard Law.

The company where I worked was established in 2010 and only has 13 employees. Of course it’s not listed yet, but I wanted to see the real circumstances of the small business where new opinions or innovation are welcomed, because I had a question about not doing the labor stereotyped in the conservative big company. To be honest, my internship experience was so hard. We didn’t have to come to the office before 10 a.m., but even interns couldn’t go home until they finished all of the work (until about 10 p.m.), and I had to skip my lunch three times in the week because of the busy work. In addition, on the filming day, all of the crews shut themselves in the studio for a couple of days. It was harsh physically and mentally, still I have heard the working environment in the media world is demanding particularly, therefore I thought that the busier the job is, the more worth job I do.

However, when I calm down and reflect on the busy days after the internship, I found out that the working environment I was in is similar to the one of a black company. The work over 8 hours long, with insufficient lunch time and sleepless work for a couple of days. One of employees said, “We have no overtime pay, but we are satisfied with this circumstances because this is the job we wanna do and we are proud of contributing to the growth of this new company.” I understand we have no choice but to sacrifice our own private lives in order to start something new at a place where our opinions are listened to in meetings and reflected in the way of the company actually. However, we should also make much of the time with our family, of the time for refreshing ourselves. I think we can make our lives more rich at the same time we make the society more affluent through our work.

It’s difficult to distinguish the company which give the worth busy days to employees, from the one which only exploit them for the enterprise’s profit. In my opinion, it depends on the balance between the job and private life that the employee desires.