Japan to seek ILO support in firms’ human rights risk management

Nov 23 , 2021. 13 hours ago – 21:00 KYODO NEWS

Uyghur people work at a sewing factory in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region in May 2021. (Kyodo)

TOKYO – The Japanese government plans to help companies operating global supply chains ramp up efforts to protect human rights in collaboration with the U.N. workers’ rights agency the International Labor Organization, sources familiar with the matter said Monday.

The aim is to ensure Japanese companies are informed and have staff who are trained to identify and address risks and violations of human rights in their global supply chains by adopting so-called human rights due diligence.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has placed increased emphasis on human rights issues since becoming Japan’s leader in October. Japan is seen as lagging behind Europe and the United States in setting rules for companies to ensure their supply chains are free of human rights violations such as forced labor and child labor.

Companies have seen increased scrutiny from shareholders over whether they are doing enough to protect human rights, especially since allegations of abusive treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority in China’s far-western Xinjiang region have come to public attention.

Under the plan, the Japanese government is expected to provide funding to the ILO, which will dispatch experts in international labor laws to companies with business operations in Asia and assist them in creating human rights due diligence systems with external oversight, the sources said. Manufacturers are expected to be the main targets of such efforts.

At the same time, the government will contract private firms for research on existing guidelines abroad on human rights due diligence, the sources said.

Some 800 million yen ($7 million) is expected to be earmarked for the plan in a to-be-compiled supplementary budget for the current fiscal year through next March, the sources added.

Currently, companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange are urged to respect human rights under corporate governance guidelines that are not legally binding.

Gen Nakatani, a newly appointed special advisor to Kishida on human rights issues, said in a recent interview with Kyodo News that protecting human rights is an important part of responsible corporate management.

Europe has already seen moves to incorporate human rights due diligence into legislation, raising concern that Japan’s inaction will hurt businesses operating there.

Alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang have prompted apparel companies to shun cotton from the region. The United States and other Western nations imposed sanctions on China over the issue while Japan has been more cautious in its response.

Cr.KYODO NEWS