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Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007

Sexually abused intern wins settlement

Court yet to rule on how foreign-trainee broker JITCO ignores exploitation

Staff writer

A former foreign intern reached an out-of-court settlement Monday with her host company in Japan and a male executive at the firm whom she had accused of repeatedly sexually abusing her while she was in a trainee program.

Legal representatives of the executive and his construction company, neither of which were identified, admitted the woman was mistreated and agreed to pay compensation.

Both sides refused to give details of the settlement.

The 35-year-old woman filed the suit in December against her host company, the executive and the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization, a semiofficial body that facilitates internship programs for foreigners from developing countries.

The settlement was partial and court proceedings in her suit against JITCO will continue. JITCO has not admitted any responsibility for the abuses against the woman.

The woman arrived in Japan in November 2004 to take part in a JITCO-organized internship program to gain farming skills. The body introduced her to a farm products sales co-op, which in turn sent her to the construction company in eastern Japan as a technical intern.

The woman received only minimal language lessons and was assigned to household jobs at the executive's house.

The plaintiff also claimed she was sexually abused by the executive on more than 60 occasions between March 2005 and last June, before she escaped from his house and sought help at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau.

The suit alleged that her passport and bank books were kept by her host firm and she was often ordered to work for weeks with no days off. It also claimed JITCO was responsible for not fulfilling its supervisorial duties and for ignoring the fact that interns are being used for menial tasks.

The plaintiff demanded a combined 37 million yen in damages.

She was not present at Monday's Tokyo District Court session. Her lawyers have asked that her name and nationality be withheld.

JITCO, an organization under the control of the Justice, Foreign, health, industry and land ministries, was founded in 1991. Foreigners applying for internships in the government-backed Industrial Training Program and Technical Internship Program are dispatched by JITCO to cooperatives and host companies. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry supervises the programs at individual firms.

In 2005, some 83,000 foreigners entered Japan under the Industrial Training Program, which provides basic skills for the trainees. That same year, 32,394 interns changed their status to the Technical Internship Program, which enables them to stay in Japan for up to seven years to obtain higher job skills.

Host firms have often been found to exploit interns and trainees, using them as cheap labor instead of offering proper training, and JITCO has been criticized for failing to properly supervise the programs by the companies.

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The Japan Times

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