Most Evil Corporation Of The Year In Japan Award 2015: 711 Japan?

Note: originally published in 2015, but republished to coincide with the publication of The Mystery of Why Japanese People Are Having So Few Babies by Alana Semuels.

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In case you missed it, the annual “Evil Corporation Awards”(ブラック企業・burakku kigyo) were held again this year and the winner for “Most Evil Corporation”  was everyone’s favorite convenience store chain: Seven Eleven Japan.  Yes, that Tonkatsu Bento box you love so much—it’s pure evil. Possibly.

Black Corporation

Burakku Kigyo which is loosely translated as “Evil Corporation(s)” are an increasing part of the Japanese business landscape—especially as the number of lifetime employment jobs has gone from roughly 85% in 1984 to 60% at present. Many jobs have no permanence, few benefits, and employees are worked as hard as the company can get away with.

Since 2008, The Most Evil Corporations Award Committee, which is made up of journalists, academics, and labor experts in order to raise awareness of Japan’s harsh corporate climate, have held an annual award for that purpose.

The Committee on their web page explains the current situation quite eloquently:

Power harassment, sexual harassment, unpaid overtime, extended work hours, discrimination, casualization, short-term employment contract, etc…Japan’s workers have been ground down by companies that repeat these practices and sometimes even drive workers to their death. We consider them the “Most Evil Corporations.”

Although they have contributed to deteriorating terms and conditions for workers, it has not been easy to investigate individual claims or resolve such corporate malpractices or even to inform the public of their wrongdoings. Workers who are often deprived of their rights have no voice left or no strength left to stand up for themselves. Even if some extreme cases are highlighted, they never lead to better work environment or labor affairs due also to insufficient analysis of social and economic structure that create such corporations.

To raise awareness of such issues and to help build secure work environment, we established a “Most Evil Corporations” Award. The corporate raspberry award is at a ceremony featuring workers who suffered in nominated corporations and labor experts who discuss circumstances of such a social phenomenon.

This year Seven Eleven Japan was singled out for the allegedly exploitive franchise system, the terrible working conditions, and a failure to fully comply with past business improvement orders from the Fair Trade Commission in 2009.

The original order noted that: “Under the situation that Seven-Eleven Japan is at a dominant bargaining position over its franchisees… it has a scheme where the amount equivalent to the costs of the disposed goods at the franchisee stores is entirely borne by the franchisees.Under this scheme, Seven-Eleven Japan forces some franchisees, which practice or intend to practice discount sales of daily goods among recommended goods(hereinafter referred to as the “Discount Sales”), to stop such Discount Sales and thereby has them lose opportunities to reduce the loss of the amount equivalent to the cost of such disposed daily goods according to their own rational business judgment.”

For more details, in Japanese, please click here.

While everyone in Japan loves the convenience of conbini, there’s a dark side to them that is not fully captured in this musical ode to the convenience store experience in Japan.

Other runners-up include shoe sales company ABC Mart. Meiko Network Japan who run the cram school ‘Meikogijuku. Arisan No Hikkoshisha (a Kanto moving company).

Japan’s Labor Ministry Names and Shames “Dark Companies” For Labor Abuse

Burakku kigyō (dark companies, exploitive enterprises) are probably the epitome of everything that’s wrong in Japan today. In 2013, it was among the top trending words of the year. They’re so much a part of the social misery in Japan that they even are incorporated into board games like The Hellish Game of LifeLast year between April and September, 6,659 businesses in Japan violated labor laws and were ordered to correct their illegal practices by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor.

Haruki Konno, head of POSSE, a group that helps young people with problems in their working environment, says black companies typically hire young employees and then force them to work large amounts of overtime without overtime pay. While specifics may vary from company to company, conditions are generally poor, and workers are subject to verbal abuse, sexual harassment and bullying.

“Outside of Japan, immigrants bear the brunt of such treatment,” Konno says . “In Japan, it’s young people. Originally the term was popular among college students looking for jobs. It was shorthand for a company that worked its employees into the ground.”

It was also a term the police used to refer to “front companies”––firms owned or operated by the yakuza, Japan’s mafia.

Konno says black companies are able to flourish due to existing conditions in the labor market. In 1985, regular employees accounted for 85 percent of the workforce. These days, the number is roughly 60 percent, a shift in job security caused by the easing of labor dispatch laws.

“Good jobs are hard to find and people are willing to put up with a lot before quitting,” Konno says.

It’s worth noting that black companies are not entirely a new phenomenon.

In July 2000, advertising giant Dentsu Inc. admitted it was responsible for the 1991 suicide of a 24-year-old employee who had become depressed due to overwork. Dentsu agreed to pay his family about ¥168 million in damages.  Last year, they were found responsible for the death of another young employee who was so overworked that she became depressed and jumped out of the company dorm on Christmas. Merry Christmas Dentsu–you’re synonymous with evil corporation now—try fixing that brand image.

The Japanese government has long promised to do something about this problem but under the reign of “Money Over Life” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, no one expected much. However, this month, much to the surprise of everyone, the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labor published a list of 334 companies that had made repeated violations of labor laws. Of course, Dentsu, is on the list.

The full list in Japanese is here:

For the sake of non-native Japanese readers, Makoto Iwahashi, an intern at POSSE and a budding journalist, working with Japan Subculture Research Center put together a list of companies that are listed on the stock exchange and/or are affiliated with listed companies. Why? Because perhaps if investors have second thoughts about putting their money into companies that can’t uphold basic labor laws, maybe these companies might suddenly care about how they treat their workers. They may not be afraid of labor unions but they may be deathly afraid of their shareholders. Let’s hope.

If we have missed any companies, or notice mistakes in the chart, please let us know. We don’t have an army of abused workers at our disposal (苦笑い)—nor would we want them. Comments, suggestions, or corrections, please send to japansubculturesearchcenter@gmail.com

It is indeed a shame that so many Japanese companies don’t take care of their workers better than they do. That would be good business practices and the right thing to do.

Listed companies and affiliates singled out for labor law violations by Japan’s Ministry Of Health, Welfare, and Labor