Create clear guidelines to enable firms to take action over human rights abuses

There is a growing movement in the United States and Europe to call on companies to check their business partners for committing human rights violations such as forced labor. The Japanese government should also strongly support companies to take action.

The government has said it will draw up guidelines by this summer to make it easier for companies to confirm that human rights infringements are not taking place in their supply chains.

As the globalization of the economy has spread supply chains around the world, forced labor and child labor at factories and other locations in emerging and developing countries can no longer be considered to have no bearing on corporate activities in developed countries.

Respect for human rights is a value shared by major developed countries, and the tendency to attach importance to it is growing year by year.

Companies perceived as disregarding human rights face difficulties in raising funds from investors and there are also increased risks such as consumer boycotts. Proactive measures must be taken.

In many European countries, it is mandatory for companies to inspect for and prevent possible human rights violations in their supply chains. The United States plans to implement legislation to ban, in principle, imports of raw materials and parts from China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where forced labor is suspected.

In Japan, legal regulations have remained an issue for consideration. So far, there have been no guidelines on how companies should deal with the issue.

According to a survey of listed companies among others conducted by the Japanese government last autumn, only about half of the companies had taken preventive action by investigating the risk of forced labor or child labor being used by their business partners.

About 30% of the companies that did not conduct such investigations said they did not know how to carry them out, and nearly 30% said they were unable to secure the staff or budget.

It is important for the government to present clear and specific measures in the guidelines. The government should clarify the scope of checks to be conducted when a company has multiple levels of business partners overseas, the criteria for what cases constitute forced labor, inspection items, and methods for conducting on-site surveys.

International cooperation is also essential to deal with human rights issues effectively.

Last year, the Group of Seven major industrialized countries agreed to cooperate to eliminate forced labor. To prove that they are not complicit in human rights violations, it is hoped that rules will be established to share information on confirmed forced labor.

Japan is also seen as backward in dealing with human rights issues. The government should step up efforts so that useful information can be obtained smoothly. There are also international nongovernmental organizations that investigate human rights violations, and the government should consider creating a system to make effective use of them.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 24, 2022.