In corporate Japan, little movement on harassment policies: Reuters poll

78 per cent of companies haven't bolstered rules in last year
By Thomas Wilson
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 05/25/2018
MeToo
Protesters hold placards during a rally against harassment at Shinjuku shopping and amusement district in Tokyo, on April 28. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) — Three-quarters of Japanese companies have made no changes to sexual harassment policies over the last year and don't plan to do so, a Reuters poll found, though awareness of harassment is on the rise.

The survey results come after a top Japanese bureaucrat was toppled over a harassment scandal and amid a global #MeToo movement that has forced workplace sexual harassment into national focus.

The Finance Ministry's Junichi Fukuda resigned last month after accusations he sexually harassed a female reporter. Fukuda denied the allegation, but the ministry later said he had harassed the reporter and docked his pay.

Protests and fierce debate followed the scandal, with a Japanese cabinet minister calling for a law to strengthen relief and protection for victims of sexual harassment. Others hoped Japan might be at a turning point in attitudes towards harassment.

It is difficult to accurately gauge how common sexual harassment is at Japanese companies. Lawyers and activists say victims are often wary of speaking out for fear of being blamed or damaging their career.

But data points to the depth of the problem. More than 42 per cent of women have experienced or witnessed harassment at work, according to a survey last year by Rengo, Japan's biggest trade union confederation.

In the Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted May 9 to 21, 78 per cent of companies said they hadn't strengthened measures to deal with sexual harassment during the last year. A further 77 per cent said they weren't even considering changes.

"We've put in place measures in the past, and haven't added anything in particular," wrote a manager at a chemical products firm.

Companies responded anonymously to the survey, conducted monthly for Reuters by Nikkei Research. Of the 541 large and mid-sized non-financial firms polled, 232 answered questions on sexual harassment policies.

AWARENESS RISES

Japan lags far behind other developed countries on gender equality, ranking 114th out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap report.

The divide is especially pronounced in the workplace. Women make up only 3.7 per cent of board members at listed Japanese firms, compared with 16.4 in the United States and 27 per cent in Germany.

But the Reuters poll shows awareness of sexual harassment has grown over the last year.

Thirty-nine per cent of firms noted a shift in culture and awareness on the issue, with seven per cent citing a major change. Companies said they have expanded education, through improved e-learning and training of workers and executives.

"For senior staff, an old-fashioned attitude remains," wrote a manager at a service sector company. "But recently consciousness has greatly increased, and they are becoming more aware of their actions."

The Labour Ministry has also seen an uptick in the number of Japanese companies seeking government advice on sexual harassment policies since the Fukuda scandal, said Ryouko Awayama, who oversees policy on workplace harassment.

FEW COME FORWARD

Since 1999, Japanese companies have been obliged by law to prevent and deal with sexual harassment via training, consultation channels and swift action after complaints.

Still, specialist lawyers told Reuters that many companies, although meeting their legal obligations, are too slow to respond to complaints and have failed to create environments where women who experience harassment feel able to speak out.

Only 14 per cent of companies said they had received complaints of sexual harassment in the last year, the Reuters poll found.

Ikumi Sato, a lawyer who has trained companies on sexual harassment, said that concrete action following complaints was rare, and that there was a often a lack of redress for victims. That could discourage them from doing anything at all, she said.

"Even if there's a system in place, they don't make complaints," Sato said. "Many claims simply don't surface."

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