Japan’s justice minister on Tuesday ordered the immigration agency to investigate violent workplace abuse allegedly suffered by a Vietnamese intern in a case that has heightened scrutiny of a state-sponsored training programme.
A video appearing to show the man being punched, kicked and battered with a stick by his co-workers at a construction company sparked outrage after it was released by the 41-year-old’s labour union and went viral this month.
The man who came to Japan in 2019 under the internship scheme has spoken out about his nearly two-year ordeal, saying he does not want other Vietnamese trainees in Japan to go through the same.
Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa said he had instructed the immigration agency to “swiftly deal with” the case.
“Human rights violations against foreign technical interns, such as abuse, are absolutely unforgivable,” he told reporters.
More than 350,000 trainees live in Japan under the state-sponsored scheme, which has been running for decades.
Its stated aim is to help workers from less developed economies gain skills in industries such as agriculture, construction and food processing.
But critics say some employers use the programme as a cheap source of labour that puts the interns at risk of exploitation and abuse.
The Vietnamese man described the alleged physical assaults as “so aggressive and so brutal” at an online news conference on Tuesday.
His name was withheld at the event, where he spoke through an interpreter alongside Mitsugu Muto, chair of the labour union that now shelters him.
Muto said persistent assaults against the trainee at the company in western Japan once involved his co-workers throwing a piece of equipment at him, resulting in his teeth being knocked out and his lip lacerated.
The trainee also separately suffered a rib fracture after a colleague kicked him with safety boots in the chest, he said, adding that the case is under police investigation.
Muto said the man’s case was extreme, but stories of harassment, low wages and verbal abuse are all too common among foreign trainees.
“We believe it’s rooted in a lack of human rights awareness… and there’s an element of racism as well,” he said.
A 2021 report by the US Department of State said foreign-based and domestic traffickers “continued to abuse the government-operated Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) to exploit foreign workers”.
Japan’s government “did not hold recruiters and employers accountable for abusive labour practices and forced labour crimes”, the Trafficking in Persons Report said.