Human Rights Concerns Prompt Many Firms to Pull Johnny’s Ads

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Johnny & Associates, Inc. in Tokyo

Tokyo, Sept. 20 (Jiji Press)—Major Japanese companies, especially those operating globally, are moving to drop performers from Johnny & Associates Inc. from advertisements in an effort to control risks related to human rights abuses.

Those companies believe that it would be internationally unacceptable not to take responses against human rights violations by the influential male talent agency’s late founder, Johnny Kitagawa, who sexually abused aspiring entertainers for decades.

Many companies decided to phase out ads featuring stars from Johnny & Associates after the talent agency held a press conference on Sept. 7, where it admitted the allegations of sexual abuses by Kitagawa for the first time.

Although the talent agency apologized for the abuses at the press conference, no concrete measures to prevent any repeat of the scandal were presented, and the company said it has no plan to change its name taken from the abuser.

The press conference showed that the talent agency is unlikely to reform, a senior official at a food maker said.

Companies both in Japan and abroad are increasingly under pressure to pay respect to human rights. Guidelines set by the Japanese government in 2022 ask companies to prevent human rights violations not only by themselves but also by their suppliers.

“We need to pay respect to human rights more than ever,” an official at a major bank said.

Johnny & Associates stars have appeared in ads from a wide range of companies, including food makers, automakers and insurers, helping to burnish the image of their products and services.

An official at a food maker, which decided not to renew contracts with the talent agency, expressed concern that it is uncertain how consumers will react to its decision.

Still, a senior official at a financial institution said, “The notion of keeping a contract in place because a performer is innocent is not acceptable overseas.”

Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. was quick to announce that it would not renew its contracts with the agency’s performers. The company said that the contracts were formed via the agency and that it is impossible to think about the performers separately from the agency.

“Using Johnny & Associates performers means accepting the abuses,” said Takeshi Niinami, president and CEO of beverage maker Suntory Holdings Ltd. and chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, a major business lobby known as Keizai Doyukai.

Masakazu Tokura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, another major business lobby, known as Keidanren, told a press conference Tuesday that Kitagawa’s case was “a sort of child abuse and a criminal act.”

It is very important for companies to demonstrate their basic stance of never tolerating human rights violations, Tokura said, referring to moves to reconsider the use of Johnny & Associates performers in ads.

Tokura added that Johnny & Associates performers themselves are victims and not perpetrators. “They are people who work hard every day, and taking away opportunities from them for a long time is also problematic,” he said.

Emi Omura, a lawyer familiar with the relationship between business and human rights, said that given the seriousness of the human rights violations, it is inevitable for companies to terminate business with the talent agency.

By presenting specific conditions for resuming business, it would be possible for companies to encourage the agency to rectify itself, Omura said, calling on them to continue to demand that Johnny & Associates take preventive measures and provide relief to victims even after suspending business with the agency.