Ex-Prime Minister Blames Meltdown on “Nuclear Village”, Inadequate Laws and TEPCO/NISA Incompetence

Tokyo – May 28th, 2012

The former prime minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, speaking on the record about Japan’s worst nuclear accident in history, blamed the disaster on the nuclear village (原子力村) aka the nuclear mafia, inadequate laws, and the appalling incompetence of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and NISA (Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency).

Naoto Kan, former PM witnesses at the 16th session of the NAIIC yesterday

Kan spoke before the The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) chaired by Mr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa at their 16th meeting at the National Diet of Japan on May 28th. Mr. Kan served as Japan’s PM (Prime Minister) from June 8th, 2010 to September 11th, 2011, and was in power during the triple nuclear meltdown last March (2011).

Kan’s testimony today before the committee highlighted the inability and lack of preparation at TEPCO and the Japanese government for dealing with a nuclear disaster.

Kan said that his advisers at the government offices and TEPCO did not help him: “The basic explanation I had looked forward to receiving I was not able to receive.” At the time, Mr. Kan said there was no explanation from NISA whether he was given the authority to make the decisions and take the necessary actions on the site.

The Fukushima incident which is the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, also revealed the ties between the nuclear industry and the government regulators known as “the nuclear village.” Because this collusion also involves the media that relies of energy industry advertising, Japanese organized crime, cover-ups, retirement positions for former nuclear regulators, and political corruption—some analysts refer to Japan’s nuclear-industrial complex not as the “the nuclear village” but as “the nuclear mafia” (原発マフィア).  Kan said that this accident exposed “the roots of the illness” of the Japanese people and after this 3.11 accident, Japan should “think if it wants to continue with nuclear power.”

Former Japanese prime minister witnessed at the NAIIC on May 28th, 2012

“I experienced this crisis and my views changed,” he said.

Kan said that the nuclear emergency preparedness law, passed in 1999, was completely inadequate for the triple meltdown. The law was created after a fatal accident at the Tokaimura  (東海村) nuclear fuel processing plant, in which several people died and nuclear fission occurred, spreading radiation into the civilian populace.  The power plant operators were later charged with criminal negligence resulting in death and convicted。They were all given suspended sentences and served no jail time. Japan’s nuclear industry has been plagued with accidents, many of them initially covered up.

Kan stated the laws did not take into account, a severe accident that would force hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate, as in Fukushima. It also did not make the chain of command clear, slowing down the response to the disaster.

“Everything addressed in the law was inadequate, and we had to waste time on things that we should not have had to do,” he said.  He cited TEPCO and NISA incompetence several times, even naming individuals. For instance, the plant’s off-site crisis management center, which had little protection from radiation and no backup power sources, quickly had to be abandoned.

While Kan did not touch upon it, soon after the accident all NISA inspectors fled the area leaving no one to accurately monitor radiation levels. It was also revealed in recent reports that TEPCO had failed to reconnect a cable that would have sent real-time data on radiation levels to the government. The cable had been disconnected months before the accident, during routine repairs and TEPCO officials simply forgot to reconnect it.

He also admitted that he was not aware of his duties as PM in a nuclear crisis, as written in the Japanese laws.

He said he was never previously briefed on these specific points: “When it comes to the specific responsibilities and authorities given to the Prime Minister (PM), when a nuclear accident takes place,, I do not recall being briefed before or directly after the accident,” he said.

Long before he became a member of the National Diet, former PM Naoto Kan was involved in the civic movements which expressed suspicions about the safety of the nuclear power plants. At the time the political party he belonged to was advocating for the nuclear power generation only as a stop-gap measure, he admitted yesterday.

The alleged passiveness of the PM at the time of the nuclear accident has been much criticized.  Mr. Kan explained that the PM has the obligation to serve as the “top of the counter-measure headquarters”, after the emergency situation has been established.

In that context, issues were discussed, whether as PM, what should his responsibilities be. The PM’s duties in case of a nuclear accident are specified in a number of laws but not clearly outlined. However Mr. Kan admitted that he was not fully aware of his duties at the time of the crisis: “When it comes to the specific responsibilities and authorities given to a PM, when a nuclear accident takes place, as a head of the counter-measure headquarters, after I became PM until the accident took place, I do not recall any situation where I was briefed on those points.” He admitted this while the members of the committee interrogated him yesterday. “I admit that as the head of the counter-measure headquarters, yes, I should have been briefed more deeply about my responsibilities and authority.”

Why The Delay In Declaring a State of Emergency?

The minister of METI, Mr. Kaieda asked for the PM’s approval for the issuance of the declaration of the emergency situation at a very late in the day of the accident. The reason for this late announcement was that there was a meeting held by top political leaders, which made it impossible to issue the declaration on emergency before the party leaders’ meeting at the time.

When the Minister of METI came to ask the PM’s approval, under article 15, the PM was the most knowledgeable person with regard to the nuclear accident. However the approval to issue the emergency state came very late after the METI minister asked Mr. Kan for the approval.

“I did not postpone the issuance of the declaration. The request was made to me at 5:42 for my approval of the declaration, on the other side, the meeting of the opposition party leaders was taking place, to which I was committed to participate, so it took one hour and 21 minutes to declare the emergency state” Mr. Kan said. “It was not an intentional delay of the approval.”

Evacuation decision and the 20km no-go zone or shelter in place

Regarding evacuation, the decision to set a 20km radius evacuation zone was taken on March 12, at 6:25pm. At that moment, there was already a hydrogen explosion that began at 3:36 pm moreover at unit 2 and 3. “Having heard the experts’ opinion, it was decided that it would be 20km.” Mr. Kan said. “There were various discussions held and regarding the fact of whether we were considering an evacuation zone of 30km,” Mr. Kan added. However, “to further expand the evacuation area, preparation needed to be made. If after the explosion of unit 1, units 2 and 3 possibly exploded, and radioactive material leaked out, depending upon the situation, it would have been more safe to shelter in place for a certain period of time, finally we heard our experts opinions and the decision was made for 20km, and after that it became 30km for asking people to seek shelter in their homes and stay indoors.”

Feeling the necessity to see the situation on the site by himself, after March 12th, Mr. Kan briefly visited the site of the accident, and received briefings from NISA, TEPCO, NSC and other technical experts, however, there was inadequate discussion of how bad the situation could become. “What TEPCO had told us is that we needed to provide the vehicles necessary to provide the power generation. And after that there was a discussion regarding venting activities. The basic explanation I had looked  forward to receiving,  I was not able to receive.”

As far as the venting activities were concerned, TEPCO said to the METI minister that they wanted to do the venting activities and METI accepted it, but it took TEPCO many hours before this happened in actuality. “So I asked why was it not happening? And the answer I got was ‘we do not know,’” Mr. Kan said. He asked Mr. Yoshida, the former head of the nuclear power station and its vice-president to make sure the venting activities that were vital would take place. “They said that they would make certain that people put their lives on the line to make this happen. And I had the impression that Mr. Yoshida would have in fact taken upon himself to make this happen. I was in the facility for about 40 minutes and then left. There were various judgments made there after I left. Especially regarding TEPCO’s decisions about leaving the site.”

Under the laws that exist, the PM can give the authority to make decisions to the local government. At the time, Mr. Kan said there was no explanation from NISA that they were not given the authority to make the decisions and take the necessary actions on site. “As far as the law says, it is something I looked at later on.” He admitted.

Normally, the government does not give an order to a private company. However the law said that authority to give necessary instructions on the part of the head of the emergency headquarters existed. “Just because it is stipulated in the law whether this attributed authority is exercised or not is something I was not thinking of from the early stages, but when this withdrawal issue was raised as a possibility, I felt that we needed to integrate the government in TEPCO’s decision making or otherwise a terrible situation would ensue. When the issue of TEPCO’s evacuation of its personnel from the site came out, the government and TEPCO then decided to form a joint task force to contain the crisis,” Mr. Kan explained.

From the US side, there was an indication that there would be support at a very early stage. When Mr. Kan communicated with the president, via a hot-line, he received the message from the President Obama that the US would support Japan in every way.

On the day of the accident, the tsunami and earthquake happened, and the nuclear accident happened, USS Ronald Reagan came in the evening off the coast of Fukushima, and Sendai airport’s response was going to be undertaken and various types of materials were to be provided. “I felt very grateful for this assistance by the US. And generally speaking I wanted to receive any support from the US side. The Ministry of Defense has a very deep relationship with the US military, so there were consultation held, military to military between our two countries from a very early stage,” Mr Kan said.

However, with regard to the idea proposed by the US to station someone of a certain position from the US at the PM’s official residence, Mr. Edano said at his own hearing, that the offer was not really declined, but rather “something that could not be accommodated upon Mr. Edano’s judgment.” Naoto Kan, at his hearing yesterday said that he was not aware of this; the chief cabinet secretary did not report this to him. If indeed the chief cabinet secretary declined the offer from the US without consulting Mr. Kan, Edano clearly exceeded the limits of his authority. 

*The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC)

Recently a number of committees have been created to exorcise these ghosts, determine what really went wrong at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) run Fukushima Nuclear Plant and figure out whether Japan should continue to rely on nuclear energy.

The NAIIC did not start work until nine month after the accident. The commission’s mission is to “first carry out an accident investigation on behalf of the people; secondly to make proposals for the future; and thirdly to carry out Japan’s responsibility as a member of the world community,” the chairman of the Commission, Mr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa said in an interview.

NAIIC chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa, at a press conference following the hearing of former PM Naoto Kan

Whatever response is taken to this nuclear accident, it will affect Japan and the world for several decades to come. The investigation has to clarify where responsibility lies and has to prevent such an accident from occurring a second time. For this purpose, the Commission “intends to make use of its legally constituted investigative authority as the National Diet’s designated accident investigation commission to sincerely and objectively pursue the facts and make proposals for the future.”

It would not be too much to say that the nuclear accident has destroyed trust in Japan around the world. Restoring that trust will require an independent, objective investigation conducted by an organization without ties to any of the parties involved.

A commission such as this is the first kind in the history of Japan’s constitutional government. Independent, third party accident investigation commissions have been established in a number of foreign countries in response to serious accidents, but never in Japan. In the USA, the Kemeny Commission that investigated the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island is well known.

The NAIIC is considering to review President Masataka Shimizu, from TEPCO, chairman Mr. Kurokawa appears to be saying that he is uncertain if the committee can compel testimony. He said he would not comment on the investigative authority of the NAIIC and on the possible refusal by Mr. Shimizu to participate to a hearing: “Whether or not ‘testifying’ is a process that we have in Japan, I am not sure. I invite you to review the laws that we have been given under our mandate. Every possibility is under consideration”, including appointing Mr. Shimizu to our hearing, Mr. Kurokawa said.

The next witness appointed by the committee for its 17th meeting has been the governor of Fukushima, Mr. Yuhei Sato, in Fukushima, on May, the 29th. Expect our report sooner or later.

The NAIIC will be issuing its final report in June.

RSF Reproaches Japan’s Treatment Of Free-Lance Journalists

I spent 12 years as a reporter in Japan working for the largest newspaper there–actually, the largest newspaper in the world. And there was a time when I was the beneficiary of Japan’s much criticized 記者クラブ system (Press Club). While the system can and does restrain the press, it also allows reporters access to people and news in a timely fashion that would be difficult to do otherwise in Japan’s highly centralized news industry. It’s a great means of developing sources, especially if you plan to leave the womb someday. (Most reporters don’t.)

However, now that I’ve been out of the system for a few years, I see how it warps and cripples press freedom in Japan, especially for free-lance journalists and the weekly magazines. The odious 個人情報保護法 (personal information protection act) which was the brain-child of Prime Minister Mori, who got tired of the weekly magazines writing about his yakuza connections, also has done a considerable damage to press freedom as well. The DPJ is working on a new law that will further damage the right of the Japanese people to know what the government and corporations running the country are actually doing.

TEPCO and the Japanese Government’s restriction of the press freedom of independent media is shocking. Really.

On that note, I’ll get back on topic. Reporter Without Borders (国境無き記者団)aka RSF, released a statement today protesting TEPCO and Japanese government restrictions on free-lance reporters covering the aftermath of the triple meltdown, corporate malfeasance at TEPCO, and general incompetence and cronyism in the Japanese government. The entire statement is here:

All opinions on the subject would be appreciated.

Reporters Without Borders denounces the discriminatory measures taken by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government against freelance journalists.

Only two Japanese freelances will be included among 40 accredited to the third media visit on 26 May to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, badly damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Although some photographers and camera operators will be present, neither of the two freelances will be allowed to use still cameras or video equipment.

One of them, Hatakeyama Michiyoshi, told Reporters Without Borders that a quota of four video journalists and four photographers had been set for the visit but the two who were not affiliated to news organizations would not be allowed to take any equipment.

“Such overt discrimination is a hidden form of censorship and is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“A year after the nuclear accident, the authorities and TEPCO are still maintaining excessive control over information about the plant and the human and environmental impact of the meltdown of its reactors.

“None of the arguments presented by government officials is valid. The right of access to information, which is meant to be guaranteed by clause 21 of the constitution, applies to all those who work in the media and to citizen journalists, not a select few.

“It is understandable that, for logistical reasons, restrictions should apply to visits but they should not be biased against freelance or foreign journalists. We urge the government to halt such discriminatory restrictions and to allow more freelance journalists to take part in the visit on 26 May.

“For their part, the two freelances who have been accredited should be allowed to take photo equipment.”

In a telephone conversation with Reporters Without Borders yesterday, the MP Yasuhiro Sonoda, parliamentary secretary at the cabinet office, put forward several arguments to support the ban on journalists taking photo and video equipment.

Referring at first to a lack of space, despite the fact that the journalists would be using two buses specially chartered for the visit, he then indicated the problem was one of time. He said photo and video equipment would have to be protected from the radiation present at the site and too large a quantity of apparatus would drastically lengthen the time needed to prepare for the visit.

The freelance Michiyoshi explained that, during the visit, the journalists would be equipped with protective suits allowing that them to spend 10 minutes at a distance of 70 to 80 metres from the building housing reactor number 4.

It was not the first time TEPCO and the Japanese government had taken discriminatory action against the media. During the second media visit to the site in February this year, for foreign journalists not included in the first visit, the organizers insisted on checking video images before they were broadcast.

Faced with objections by members of the Foreign Press Club, the Foreign Press Center and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, the requirement was withdrawn.

A year after the nuclear disaster, restrictions on freelance journalists remain stricter than those that apply to journalists affiliated to a news organization. The foreign media are still largely under-represented.

Japan is ranked 22nd of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

 

A Light In The Dark Empire: The Man Who Fought TEPCO.

Katsunobu Onda, investigative journalist and author of "TEPCO: The Darkness of the Empire" and "The Last Will and Testament of A TEPCO Foreman"

Katsunobu Onda is a writer and investigative journalist who has been chronicling the corporate malfeasance in Japan’s nuclear industry for over two decades and his book  Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO): The Darkness of the Empire 「東京電力・帝国の暗黒」which was published in November of 2007 was the first book to dig deeply into TEPCO’S problems and sounded a warning that no one heeded. In some passages it almost eerily predicts the disaster that took place on March 11th, 2011. The book has recently been re-issued and his new book, The Last Will and Testament of A TEPCO Foreman published in February 2012, using first-hand accounts of the cover-ups, shoddy maintenance, labor abuse and corporate malfeasance at Japan’s largest energy provider, makes a strong case that TEPCO needs to be shut down or taken over by the government in order to prevent yet another tragedy.

First encounter with nuclear power plants

The first time Onda had the opportunity to visit a nuclear power plant in his career was 25 years ago at Fukushima Number One nuclear power plant. Onda says that inside the nuclear power plant, and the facilities itself, there are many people who do the daily maintenance work: “I decided to go and visit Fukushima Number 1 nuclear power station 25 years ago, because I heard stories about several people who died from exposure to radiation,” he said.

 

People who work in nuclear power stations

Most of the time, the people who work inside the nuclear power plant facilities tend to be local people whose main work is in farming or in the fishing industry. These are seasonal occupations, and quite often these people spend the off season going to other places in Japan, to do construction work as well. With the nuclear power plants, the people were able to do their off season work locally. Because they could commute from home, it was a rather attractive kind of job.

Speaking with these people, Onda learned that they all had almost no education with regards to the dangers of radioactivity: “Basically they were given a simple lecture. The lectures were short and ceremonial. They were given very simple background information and immediately after they would be standing at the reactors to work.” In Onda’s findings, most of the nuclear power plant maintenance workers had no understanding of radioactivity and the dangers of radiation. Radiation, of course, is also invisible. He also found out that there were no accurate records kept of how much radiation the workers have been exposed to. As a result, “each person had no idea of how much danger he or she was in by continuing to work at the plants” he said in a press conference in Tokyo.

 

Personal anger and sorrow

Onda says that the very first impression that he got when he started to cover nuclear power energy issues was that basically he could not forgive the way they functioned: “Nuclear power plants exist on the foundation of sacrificing organic life, whether you are a mammal, a beast or a plant.” “The negative effects of radiation is the same for all,” he said while he started to weep.

 

The power plant and the coming Great Tokai Earthquake

Onda started reporting on Chubu Electric Company, as a result, he wrote a book on the theme of “the power plant and the great Tokai earthquake.” He says he had similar impressions when he visited TEPCO, but in the case of the Chubu power plant, the reactors that he visited were stuck as a result of “undergoing inspections.” Therefore he was able to really get inside the reactor and view the facility from inside, and at that time, his impression was that, “not only there were no real understanding of a danger” or a deeper understanding of the possible replications of high radiation exposure, but he also thought from a technical point of view, that he had very great doubts with regard to the preparations in case a very big earthquake occurred.

Not only he discovered that there was a great danger for the people working inside the plant, but he felt at that time he did his research, that “if there were a real big accident, this would not only be disastrous and dangerous for the people working inside the power plant, but also for the people living around the plant.” And the accident could inevitably affect the people around the world as well.

 

A causal relationship between nuclear accidents and earthquakes

Onda has spent many years working as a reporter for a weekly news magazines and over time, when there were opportunities, he did more in depth reporting, for example when there was an accident at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant in 2007 and also for the Fukushima accident last year as well. Onda says that he has tried to convey his concerns to the greater public to the best of his efforts.

“I feel very strongly that five years ago, after the accident at Kashiwazaki Kariwa, it was made very clear to everyone who was paying attention, that there is causal relationships between earthquakes and nuclear power plants accidents.” Yet, it seems that the lessons were not very well learnt after the disastrous situation at Fukushima.

At that time, Onda felt that he needed to bring that matter to the public and he brought together his book called TEPCO, The Darkness of The Empire.

 

A source within the nuclear power plant company

Over the years, he has written many articles in many magazines about the nuclear power plant issues. One person served as a strong foundation for his reporting. That was deceased Mr. Norio Hirai. Mr. Hirai was a foreman at a TEPCO power plant.

Onda says that in the past, it was very difficult for trying to get answers and honest opinions from people within the electric power plants and electric power companies themselves, therefore Mr. Norio Hirai was a very special person to him, because the man was the first person to be a whistle blower, “someone who brought the electric power plants problems to light from within the company.”

From Mr. Hirai, Onda has received very valuable information, such as the status of radiation exposure of the workers inside the plant. Mr. Hirai gave Onda more detailed information about life inside the plant, and told him about the “structural and technical problems with the plants,” and listening to him, Onda says he could understand the issues very well, because, himself has had the opportunity to view the installations from inside.

For years, the government, TEPCO, and other electric utility companies in Japan have insisted on the “safeness” of the nuclear power plant facilities to the public. Onda believes that the electric utility companies, the power generating industry itself, and the government are all one single unit, that’s why he refers to it as “the nuclear mafia.”

 

Money, the power of  “the nuclear mafia”

The root of the power of the nuclear mafia lies in the fact that they have money. Using the power of money, they were able basically to push upon the public this myth of safety and as a result, “they were able to convince the media, including myself that this myth was actually true.” The Japanese media also played an active part in perpetuating the deceptive activities of the nuclear industry: “They bare a tremendous responsibility for helping the government and the electric industry to perpetuate this myth.” Onda says. “When I look back on what has happened, I feel an enormous feeling of anger and regret, feeling powerlessness that I was not able to do anything more.”

 

Fight against the lobby of nuclear energy

Onda is now a freelance journalist and writer, he said that although he feels tremendous regret, he has not lost his fighting spirit at all, in fact he intends to work and report more regarding nuclear power plants. Now that he heard people like Mr. Naoto Matsumura (the Buddha of Fukushima) and his colleagues are trying to do something about this issue, Onda says it inspires him to keep on writing and investigating. He was the first journalist to really shine light into the darkness of the TEPCO empire; many hope that Mr. Onda will finally expose the dangers of Japan’s nuclear industry before all of Japan is exposed to the danger from their mistakes and corporate malfeasance.

TEPCO's "Severe Accident Manual" Takes On Barcode Hairstyle

The House of Representatives Special Committee on Promotion of Science and Technology and Innovation had requested TEPCO submit two operating manuals: one for accidents, and one for severe accidents.

On September 12th, 3 copies of the document, which included only the front binding and the table of contents, were passed out to the committee. Of approximately 50 lines of text, all but 2 had been blacked out.  In an additional gesture of complete paranoia, the documents were collected from the committee before the meeting adjourned.

Under the laws that govern nuclear power in Japan, The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) has requested that TEPCO submit the documents to the committee in full.

When asked why so much of the document was redacted, TEPCO invoked intellectual property rights and concern over protection of nuclear materials.

Jake’s note: The weekly magazine 週刊ポスト (09/30号) speculates that the redacted paragraphs have to do with a cover-up of the earthquake damage to the reactors and TEPCO prioritization of saving the reactors rather than preventing disaster,  which may have started the meltdown in one of the reactors BEFORE the tsunami arrived. They make a convincing case.

While the document remains shrouded in mystery, fortunately, through the help of Hugh Ashton, Stephanie, and our crack team of investigative journalists, we were able to get ahold of the original document and translate it into English. However, for national security reasons we have left some of it redacted. Here it is:

The TEPCO Severe Accident Manual, translated into English. (Note: this is a parody and not the real manual which is probably much more funny, albeit unintentionally.)

North Korea Turns 63, Party Guests Seem Kinda Angry

63 years ago today, everyone’s favorite totalitarian regime (and land of our Dear Leader!), was founded.

To mark the anniversary, NGOs committed to humanitarian concerns in North Korea have joined forces, launching The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) at a press conference yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents Club. The press conference was followed by a protest held in front of the de-facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo (Chosen-Soren), where the coalition demanded that every one of the more than 200,000 prisoners held in political camps be released. (*Japan and the US both consider North Korea a threat to national security. The recent executive order by President Obama targeting the yakuza was intended to be an indirect blow to North Korea by cutting off their funding. See notes at end of article)

Demonstrators outside the de-facto North Korean embassy
Demonstrators outside the de-facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo, the Chosen-Soren

ICNK unites 40 groups committed to stopping human rights abuses in North Korea, marking a first in the humanitarian efforts to hold North Korea accountable; up until now, NGOs committed to this cause were working more or less separately. The organization brings what was once a mostly regional effort to a global scale, by linking organizations across the continents. It is hoped that these groups, banded together, can generate exponential strength as a unified front.

According to a former UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, crimes against humanity in the regime are “in its own category”. Vitit Muntarbhorn, who worked for 6 years in the post, estimates that the camps hold 200,000 to 300,000 prisoners, who are subject to systematic torture, near starvation, and systematic rape of female prisoners. Those outside the camps, depending on the depth of their allegiance to dictator Kim Jong-Il, fare only marginally better in the “state of fear”; Muntarbhorn’s 2009 investigation discovered that 40% of North Koreans are starving. Public executions are believed to have increased four or five fold in the past ten years. The full investigation can be read here.

The past 15 years have been dedicated to promoting awareness of these issues. However, Human Rights Watch Asia Director Phil Robertson stresses that the ICNK “is going to be an action coalition”.  Coalition members laid out their strategy at the press conference.

The coalition’s foremost concern is lobbying for a UN “commission of inquiry” of North Korea. Rather than having a single rapporteur monitoring the situation from afar, such a commission would lend “a group of leading experts and jurists, from around the world, selected and mandated by the UN” the authority to demand entry into the country for an investigation.  Members stressed that they are lobbying strongly for an independent and impartial investigation.

The press was skeptical. Given the relative economic and political isolation of the country, how can we force North Korea to change, much less to cooperate in an investigation? Indeed, North Korea has never allowed the UN special rapporteur into the country.

Coalition members were realistic about the likelihood they will be granted access in North Korea to carry out an investigation. However, they were seemed confident they could nevertheless affect change. The President of Seoul-based Open North Korea, Tae Keung Ha, points out that international pressure in the past has indeed led to changes in the regime. After the issue of prisoner camps was made known, the number of camps decreased from ten to six.  As another concrete example, 20 years ago, Amnesty International tried to visit one prison; though they were not allowed in,  the camp was abolished immediately after their attempted visit.

Dove-shaped balloons are released with the the names of over 600 friends and family members who are known to be detained in North Korean penal institutions

Ha’s comment that “Kim Jong-Il considers himself as an international leader” received laughs of surprise from the press. “He makes a lot of his image in the international community. So, the more that we talk about it, the more international pressure, the more they will respond.”

Mr. Robertson acknowledges the obstacles; “It is a failure of political will”. He mentions the usual excuses given by bureaucrats-  Kim Jong-Il’s shaky grip on reality, his nuclear capacity, the fear of another attack across the DMZ (the demilitarized zone), even attacks carried out by the North Korean government against its own people. Nevertheless, council members believe that “the machinery of the UN would have the capacity to make a wide range of recommendations on how to end impunity in North Korea”.

According to Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (which has also done its own investigation into North Korean human rights violations), there are four ways of securing a commission of inquiry: through the security council, the human rights council, the general assembly, and the secretary general. He adds, “We are not specifying categorically which we will use, but we believe it will likely succeed in the human rights council or the general assembly, where China and Russia do not have veto power.” He also acknowledges that China and Russia will “still remain major players”, but that there may be ways to soften any opposition they bring. It also seems that there may not be as much individual support for the regime within the countries that publicly offer it support; according to a council member, one Russian diplomat privately described North Korea as “the neighbor from hell”.

The annual UN Human Rights Resolution is passed in either November or December; it is in this resolution that the drafting countries (including Japan, South Korea, the EU, Canada) will hopefully include a call for the commission to be created. The Japanese government plays a very critical role here – it authors the initial draft of this resolution.

Upon completion, the press conference moved to the Chosen-Soren, where protestors outside the embassy held signs in English, Korean, and Japanese, and led chants in all three languages. A letter to Kim Jong-Il, asking for entrance into the country to conduct the investigation, was successfully handed over to an official inside the embassy.

Ms. Kim Hye Sook, center, spent 28 years in a political prison.

Ms. Kim Hye Sook, survivor of a political camp, attended to show support for the coalition. Having been detained from the time she was 13 years old, it was only when she was released 28 years later that she was informed of her crime: her grandfather had escaped to South Korea, and she was considered guilty by association.  The BBC has done an excellent interview with Ms. Sook. When I spoke with her, however, she wanted readers of the blog to know that North Koreans are fed propaganda about the Japanese people – and that it was only upon coming to Tokyo that she understood the lies she had been told. She feels gratitude for the work that Japanese NGOs are doing for this cause.

*Jake’s note: On July 24th, President Barack Obama declared war on the yakuza (ヤクザ)aka The Japanese mafia, in an executive order. According to several sources, part of the reason for doing was that many of the yakuza are North Korean Japanese with affiliations to North Korea. There have been several cases where yakuza members were found to be importing drugs and guns from North Korea. Yakuza groups continue to provide them with a source of revenue. In his executive order Obama noted, “(the yakuza) are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States; they are increasingly entrenched in the operations of foreign governments and the international financial system, thereby weakening democratic institutions, degrading the rule of law, and undermining economic markets.  These organizations facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts and increasingly facilitate the activities of other dangerous persons.  I therefore determine that significant transnational criminal organizations constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” The threat the yakuza pose to US National Security is signficantly  related to their dealings with North Korea.

Taro Kono: A new leader for a new LDP?

Taro Kono, 2010, illustration by @marikurisato 

“I’m really getting sick and tired of talking pessimistic about the future of Japan. Two years ago, I said, let me run the LDP, I can probably run it better than anyone else.”

With that, Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) member Taro Kono simultaneously opened the press conference and announced his intention to seek the presidency of his party. Kono, who was first elected in 1996 and currently serves in the Lower House, won the 2nd largest number of votes for the presidency last year. He lost to former Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, an old-school politician with no charisma but plenty of factional support.

Is it possible that Japan’s former ruling political party, the LDP, which ran the country for five decades and introduced nuclear power, could also be the same party to lead Japan out of the nuclear mire? Many people would argue this is unlikely. It was the LDP which created the nexus of bureaucrats, corrupt politicians, dysfunctional oversight agencies, and the monopolistic electrical power companies known as Japan’s “nuclear mafia”. It’s hard to conceive they could also be the one to break up the system and put Japan back on track; most people are justly dubious.  However, there is rising popular support for Mr. Kono both within his own party and the Japanese public. He has become a political celebrity, often interviewed in magazines and on television.

Kono speaks English fluently, a rarity among Japanese politicians. He attended university in the States and went on to work for two southern politicians in the 1980s. His confident, even aggressive style is also unusual among his peers. On the currently ruling DPJ, he comments, “Really,  they are just taking orders from the bureaucrats. They don’t know what the hell is going on”. And about the quarter of his party that threatens to leave if he wins the presidency? “That’s OK, we don’t need them. We can ask better members of the other parties to join us.” For an LDP politician, that voice of inclusion and sanity is widely different from the usual tribal politics that dominate the organization.

Among the things he is pushing: deregulation, pension reform (he rants: “2004 reform was a big failure. No one is talking about that right now. Where did it go? I am the only one talking about this.”), and of course, like all radical politicians, the eventual phasing out of Japan’s nuclear power program.

This, and his relative youth, distinguish him considerably from the old LDP guard. In a US cable dated October 27th, 2008 (courtesy of Wikileaks) Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer reports: “During this meeting, (Kono) voiced his strong opposition to the nuclear industry in Japan, especially nuclear fuel reprocessing, based on issues of cost, safety, and security. Kono claimed Japanese electric companies are hiding the costs and safety problems associated with nuclear energy, while successfully selling the idea of reprocessing to the Japanese public as ‘recycling uranium.’…He also accused METI of covering up nuclear accidents, and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry.”

Kono envisions the phase-out concretely; he hopes to have all nuclear plants decommissioned by 2050, replaced by renewable energy and then, if necessary, supplemented by natural gas. Acknowledging that overnight abandonment of the nuclear plants isn’t realistic, his plan includes allowing the use of nuclear-generated energy until renewables can take over; this has a time limit, as he also opposes building more reactors. But first: fire the upper management of TEPCO, do tests on both the hardware and the software, and after that discuss which plants are safe to operate.

One of the main concerns Kono has about nuclear energy in Japan is the ever-increasing amount of spent fuel that is piling up without a place to store it, or a working strategy to discover one. Though the government claims it will find a place to dump the nuclear waste by 2028, the testing required to meet that deadline hasn’t taken place and thus is probably 10 years behind schedule. However, the government still hasn’t admitted to this, and of course more and more waste is produced every day. He likens this faith, blinded by the shiny shiny yen, in an abruptly sobering way: to the Japanese army of WWII.  “Anything is possible if you have mind to do it… but at the end of the day you just lose everything.”

His outspokenness on this issue and others have made him many enemies. As the only member of his party who has questioned the safety of nuclear power, he reports that he is often asked “Are you a  Communist?”  Some have even publicly called for him to join the socialist party (he jokes that he isn’t sure if this is an upgrade or a downgrade from “Communism”).

Pointing out that the DPJ is owned by the power company labor unions (while the LDP is essentially owned by the companies themselves), Kono doesn’t convey optimism about the current system’s ability to objectively handle this crisis. He also warns that though the media has stepped up its reporting on energy companies since the accident, they are also held back by the possibility of losing lucrative advertising from the power companies. “Probably every single media in Japan is bought and paid for by power companies. When I go to TV stations in Tokyo, they say, well they understand that TEPCO will probably not be buying much more advertising time. But local TV stations still get many offers from electric companies. So if the major TV stations criticize power companies, the local ones won’t receive that advertising. So they have to be a little calm right now”.

Kono also laments a missed opportunity for the LDP to reform. When the DPJ took power for the first time in 40 years, the senior LDP leaders realized that their party needed to change. “I thought DPJ would rule the country for 10 years and that they will do the reforms that LDP couldn’t have done. So for LDP it would be a dark 10 years–though we could use those years to get rid of the old people and bring in a young generation.” But now, Kono believes, due to the unexpected failure of the DPJ, the sentiment among those LDP have changed; by the weakness of their competition, the LDP has been lured into complacency, “and the moment to change the party disappeared”.

Still, he observes, “If you go talk to people on the street, they hate the DPJ. But they don’t feel the LDP has changed a bit.” Despite irritation with one party, distrust of the other remains; just one of many discouraging parallels to the current political U.S. system, one of the republics after which the Japanese one was modeled.

On how his party has treated him since the disaster: “Now, a lot of senior LDP members look at me and say, you are right. There was an accident. But I was never talking about an accident, just about the danger of the spent fuel.”

He jokingly suggests that this means no one was “actually listening to what [he’s] been saying”; but it is telling that the LDP politicians confused those two subjects. One might speculate that to the bribed politicians who willfully ignore concerns about nuclear safety, subversive types [like Kono] haunt a conscience that was long-ago smothered in the asphyxiating folds of TEPCO’s pocket; perhaps, any suggestion of genuine oversight seems like “the right choice”, and in the mind of these civil servants, Kono’s warnings occupy a space in their brain not specifically about “spent fuel” or “industry-government collusion”, but more broadly labeled “accountability”, “statesmanship”, or maybe “civic duty”.

As the conference came to a close, Kono, maybe unconsciously, provided a thought-provoking reference to his previous WWII analogy:  “If we have a mind to do it, there will be more investment, more research and development, and more people will see the bright future with renewables. There are some scholars who say that renewables are not enough. But people said the same thing about nuclear power plants, that they would be safe. But that wasn’t the case. I don’t really care what they say. We simply have to set the goal and work towards it.”

NISA Needs To Take Evil Lessons

It has been recently revealed that in 2006 the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency asked Chubu Electric company to recruit citizens to ask “pre-arranged questions” (“やらせ質問”) and speak favorably about nuclear power at public hearings on the proposed use of MOX fuel. These hearings took place in the summer of 2006 in Shizuoka and Ehime prefectures. Certain utilities asked its employees and even local residents to say positive things about the plutonium thermal project to win over support for the controversial proposal.

After getting caught manipulating public opinion to be pro-nuclear and to shut up dissent, NISA distributes "bowing in shame" (土下座)figurines to employees, with mini-manual to improve public opinion of NISA with quality apologies. (Not really.) It's not easy being an atomic cheerleader.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has made the requisite denouncements, promising an independent investigation into the matter, to be published by the end of August.

The Sankei Shinbun reports that according to Chubu Electric, NISA requested they put these “questioners” in inconspicuous locations in the assembly hall. They were also asked to “try not to call on those in opposition to the plutonium thermal proposition,” but to have citizens ask questions that have been pre-made by Chubu Electric. They ended up drafting the questions, but after consulting their legal compliance department, they reaching the conclusion that such an act would be extremely dubious and never actually distributed them. In fact, Sankei reports that some Chubu employees encouraged citizens to “speak honestly, even if your opinions are critical”.

Other utilities went along, however. According to the Asahi Shinbun, Shikoku Electric “sought out 29 people, including local residents, to speak up in the government-sponsored session, providing them with ‘example opinions’ beforehand….One person said at the session: ‘I was somewhat relieved to learn that using fuel made from plutonium blended with uranium would not be very different from using uranium in terms of the gases generated’. The words were similar to the sample opinion.”

There is something darkly funny about the provided  “example opinions”. While this is another serious example of collusion between industry and regulators, the incident also just seems pathetic–conjuring ridiculous images of confused citizens reading awkwardly from index cards, stumbling over the terminology, NISA officials shuffling over to help with the pronunciation of the more challenging nuclear words: “No no, thats actually thor-ium…yes, yes, now please start from the beginning.” This is really the best strategy they had to generate favorable public opinion?

Maybe I’m simply unfazed by these nuclear industry “scandals” the press keeps uncovering, but rather than villianous, the attempts at manipulation just seem too incompetent to take seriously. They could certainly learn a thing or two from the oil barons of the US or the bankers on wall-street. Or maybe it just shows how little effort is required to get away with unethical behavior in an environment as saturated with corruption as Japan’s nuclear industry is.

Jake’s note: NISA is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The same agency which is now investigating NISA for “improper behavior”. Allegedly, the job of NISA is to regulate the nuclear industry, not be the atomic energy cheerleaders. There were seven NISA inspectors on the site at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear reactor on the day of the earthquake, March 11. All of them fled immediately, leaving very few people competent to measure the radioactive levels at the site or assess the danger leverl. NISA in response to my questions insisted that this was not dereliction of duty.

NISA has never filed criminal charges against TEPCO although the firm has repeatedly forged documents and altered data in over 161 incidents, which constitutes forgery and possibly fraud under Japanese criminal law. If it wasn’t clear that NISA is more about supporting the nuclear industry than regulating it, it is now. They might as well trade in their geiger counters for some pom-poms. It would make the agency more transparent.

The US Declares War On The Yakuza

On July 24th, President Barack Obama declared war on the yakuza (ヤクザ)aka The Japanese mafia, in an executive order which stated that “(the yakuza) are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States; they are increasingly entrenched in the operations of foreign governments and the international financial system, thereby weakening democratic institutions, degrading the rule of law, and undermining economic markets.  These organizations facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts and increasingly facilitate the activities of other dangerous persons.  I therefore determine that significant transnational criminal organizations constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”

In Japan, the yakuza exist as semi-legal entities regulated but not outlawed. They are the subject of comics, games, movies and fanzines. Apparently, President Obama is not a fan.
The typical structure of a yakuza group. Artwork by @marikurisato

The yakuza were one of four international organized crime groups (in federal law enforcement terms “transnational criminal organizations”) singled out by the President in his order. The order is meant to give the United States new tools and methods to break the economic power of transnational organized crime and protect the financial markets. It will assist the US federal government’s efforts to disrupt, destroy and defeat the international organizations that pose a significant threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy or the economy.

As a result of the order, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the yakuza have an interest will be blocked, and U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in transactions with the yakuza, or their affiliated companies. The order also authorizes the U.S. Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and State, to identify for sanctions any individual or entity determined to have materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material or technological support for any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the executive order.

In the past, Citibank has been punished by the Japanese Financial Services Agency twice (2004 and 2009) for aiding and abetting money laundering by yakuza members; there was no punishment from the US side. In 2004-2006, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized close to a million dollars worth of assets in the United States owned by Kajiyama Susumu, the so-called emperor of loan sharks, and a Yamaguchi-gumi Goryokai (旧山口組五菱会・元山口組清水一家)member. UCLA from 2000-2003, received close to two million dollars in money from four individuals who were yakuza or associates of the yakuza, in exchange for liver transplants conducted at UCLA hospitals.

It remains to be seen how this executive order will effect yakuza operations within the United States or whether this will also effect US companies in Japan that do business with the yakuza or their “shell-corporations.”

On September 30th, 2009, Ando Takaharu, the head Japan’s National Police Agency declared war on Japan’s largest organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi (40,000 members), and pushed for a dismantling of the main faction of the group, the Kodo-kai (山口組弘道会) (3,000-4,000 members). The nearly two year “war on the yakuza” in Japan has resulted in the arrest of the number one and number two most powerful members of the Kodo-kai and dealt a huge blow to that faction, if not the Yamaguchi-gumi itself.

Reddit Japan has posted this blog entry, if you feel like adding your own comments or insight.

The text of the actual executive order follows. The annex refers to the four international crime groups mentioned above of which the yakuza are included.

EXECUTIVE ORDER

BLOCKING PROPERTY OF TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL ORGANIZATIONS

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) (NEA), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,

I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, find that the activities of significant transnational criminal organizations, such as those listed in the Annex to this order, have reached such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.  Such organizations are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States; they are increasingly entrenched in the operations of foreign governments and the international financial system, thereby weakening democratic institutions, degrading the rule of law, and undermining economic markets.  These organizations facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts and increasingly facilitate the activities of other dangerous persons.  I therefore determine that significant transnational criminal organizations constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.

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Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future that Works

What is the future of Japan? Can the country get back on its feet? It’s a question that the world and the people of Japan are asking themselves. McKinsey & Company have edited a book that aims to answer this question.

Reimagining Japan is a collection of eighty essays that aim to shed light on how Japan can rebuild itself in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. The contributors come from a variety of backgrounds – from CEOs to journalists, to academics – also include a fair amount of both Japanese and foreign writers. Roughly half of the contributors come from the business sector, and 14 of the 80 come from McKinsey itself.

Though the topics explored range in subject, there are a few recurring themes that run through the collection. Outlined in the introduction, they include the need for openness (the unwillingness of young Japanese to venture outside of their country, and of companies to take their ideas global), diversity (Japan has a relatively homogenous population), innovation (Japan’s need to move away from labor-intensive industries) and leadership (strong company and government officials who can act boldly and expediently). Though sometimes the reemergence of these themes can be tiring, and even seems like a bit of a broken record, often the authors provide enough of their own unique insight to keep it interesting.

There are also a few authors who break hard with the general consensus. Just when you think you have certainly heard enough about the  “change-resistant” personality of the population, John Dower shakes it up with several historical examples that belie this characterization of the Japanese. Forced to reconcile these conflicting assessments, it’s a rewarding experience to recognize the truth in both and thus gain a deeper understanding of the problems facing Japan.

I noted this kind of mental progress several times through the reading of these articles; how is it that Japan ranks 4th in Innovation in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, yet one of the most consistent charges against the Japanese is that they fail to innovate? It’s actually hard to put the book down once you get into the discussion.

Chapter 3, Restructuring Japan Inc., was particularly interesting and well-edited, with each consecutive chapter offering a challenge to the one before. Macroeconomic policies, such as decisive quantitative easing vs. restructuring, were debated as each policy expert laid out his case. The article “Reforming Japan, Nordic Style”, I found particularly interesting; author Richard Katz points out the egalitarian ethic and homogenous, well-educated society that Japan has in common with the Nordic countries, and proposes that Japan should consider how these countries have been able to foster growth and improve efficiency through their policy of government provided employment security rather than individual job security.

Interestingly, the Japanese writers were the most critical of their own society, the quickest to bemoan the complacency and resistance to change. Yasuchika Hasegawa, president and CEO of Takeda pharmaceuticals said, “…until this country hits bottom, our people will never get serious about change”. Tadashi Yanai, chairman and CEO of Fast Retailing, which owns UNIQLO, had even harsher words: “Japans biggest problems are conservatism and cowardice”. Foreign contributers, on the other hand, it seemed couldn’t help but temper their criticisms of Japanese politics or economical policy with praise of all the things we foreigners have love affairs with the Japanese over.

After a few days of reading these essays back to back, dissecting Japan’s dysfunctions and prescribing elaborate solutions, I felt overwhelmed by the work ahead of my adopted country. Japan has been lagging not only economically, but also losing global influence, its once formidable share of the tech market, and having recently lost its status as the “linchpin” of American strategy in Asia to South Korea, even its political prominence.  Several authors, noting the shifting power structure in Asia that has accompanied the rise of China, and more than half of the authors inn “Redefining Japan’s Foreign Relations” chapter argues the need for a pan-Asian alliance–one which Japan must lead.

However, the aforementioned broken record comes in handy here: it does the powerful task of affirming the consensus among experts on Japanese culture. Our problems aren’t so varied, and at the end of the day we really aren’t in disagreement about them. In many cases, we aren’t even in disagreement about the corresponding solutions. And indeed, many solutions were offered, particularly by the writers who dealt with political and economic problems.

However, while many also mentioned social issues, (a great number encouraging the use of women in the work force), few offered any solutions to those problems. Here, the heavy reliance on business-sector contributors is seen. Sure, nearly half the population is underutilized, and that could be a great source of labor for a country that faces an aging population, but how does this happen when an increasing number of Japanese women say they would like to get married and stay at home?

And how do we deal with an aging population if women say they only want one child because doing all the work by themselves is too 大変 (taihen/difficult)? As Kaori Sasaki says in her contribution “Putting Families First”, “changing the law can only do so much; our value system needs to change, too”. I had lengthy discussions with my roommate, Shigeaki Baba, about the theories and policies here, and he said, they are missing the biggest problem- there are a lot of ways in which Japanese society sucks. For a country that prides itself on efficiency, the current family set-up seems disastrously inefficient; one member puts in enough work hours for two, and sacrifices time that could be spent with his children; and the other is deprived the individual necessity comes with a fulfilling career. Of course, this model works for some families, but I think that for many Japanese people, both men and women, this set-up greatly contributes to their unhappiness. Maybe people don’t want to get married, pursue careers, or have kids, because in Japanese society these are difficult things to manage even one at a time. I would have liked to have seen more authors elaborating on that.

Overall, this is a highly thought-provoking and inspiring collection of works and recommended reading for anyone interested in Japan. This certainly sparked great discussion among my friends and roommate. I think if you care about Japan, this is an important collection to read, and hopefully add too as well.

Jake’s comment:

The book would have benefitted by having an essay by Kathy Matsui, who at this year’s TokyoTedX, gave a scathing review of Japan’s sexist polices and demonstrates how incorporating women into the workplace could save Japan’s economy and help solve the declining birth-rate. Personally, I also felt that there should have been some focus on the endemic problems of organized crime in Japan’s politics and business. The culture of corruption, collusion, and corporate malfeasance is a huge stumbling block in re-imagining Japan. I hope that the book is read by more than just the foreign population and that some wise souls in the government of Japan pay attention. Unlikely, but one can hope.

The book is also available in Japan from Amazon as well. 
http://www.amazon.co.jp/REIMAGINING-JAPAN-Quest-Future-Works/dp/142154086X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1310403257&sr=8-1

US report: human trafficking inside government’s foreign trainee program

Polaris Project visits trainees in Fukui prefecture (Courtesy of Polaris Project Japan)

Just two months after Japan got burned in the US State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report, a new paper pins the country’s foreign trainee program as being almost as close as you can get to state-sanctioned labor trafficking.

According to the 2011 Trafficking in Persons report, the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program run by JITCO, provides no protection against “debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages and overtime, fraud, and contracting workers out to different employers”. The report says that the majority of those who participate are from China, and in some cases pay fees of more than $1,400, and deposits of up to $4,000, to brokers in order to apply for the program. Minimum wage in China varies between US$100 and $200 per month.

The report cites a 2010 survey of Chinese trainees, saying that deposits are regularly seized by brokers if trainees report mistreatment or try to quit the program, and that some have reported having passports taken to prevent escape–the tell-tale signs of human trafficking that are often seen in sex trafficking cases.

Continue reading US report: human trafficking inside government’s foreign trainee program