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Chinese interns lured to labor in Japan sweatshops, report says

MANY of the 100,000 Chinese interns working in Japan have become sweatshop laborers exploited by their Japanese bosses and illegal immigration agencies, the Legal Daily reported yesterday.

Some were forced to work overtime and paid less than the law required, while female interns were often subjected to sexual harassment and assault, the newspaper said, without revealing statistics on the alleged abuse.

The Japanese government pledged that new regulations would be put in place by the end of this year to strengthen protection of international interns, but so far no action has been taken, according to the report.

Two Chinese diplomatic officials met with some of the interns last week to express their concern.

The interns who were reportedly exploited were forced to take so-called "three-K" jobs, the Ks representing the first letters of the Japanese words for dirty, dangerous and difficult.

The positions were in textiles, metal processing and farming.

Some business associations in Japan and unscrupulous immigration agencies extorted money from the interns and took their passports and bank deposit books to prevent them from fleeing, according to the newspaper.

Most of the victims did not complain to authorities because they feared they would be deported if the business organizations they worked for were found to be violating the rules, the report said.

The Japanese internship system was set up to promote technology exchanges with developing nations by offering youngsters from those countries training and work experience. But it was gradually turned into a channel to acquire cheap laborers especially after Japan's economy collapsed, according to the newspaper.

Japan set up an internship visa in 1989 and revised the law in 1990 to allow small and medium-sized businesses to import foreign interns through local business federations and associations.

Foreign interns are not supposed to function as laborers, and trainees, which are involved in two-year work experience programs, are protected by Japanese labor law, the newspaper said.

The number of interns in Japan reached more than 100,000 by 2007, and trainees surged to 54,000, according to the newspaper. About 80 percent in both categories were from China.

Last year, 33 foreign interns and trainees died, according to the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization. Six were killed in work accidents while 15 died of brain or heart disease, though most of them were between 20 and 30 years old. Chinese accounted for nearly 70 percent of the deaths, the report said.

During the same year, 452 Japanese enterprises violated rules, according to the Immigration Bureau of Japan's Ministry of Justice.


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