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Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010

CABINET INTERVIEW

Okazaki to beef up consumer agency


Staff writer

Tomiko Okazaki, newly appointed National Public Safety Commission chairwoman and new state minister in charge of consumer affairs, intends to give the Consumer Affairs Agency more clout.

News photo
Consumer champion: Tomiko Okazaki, National Public Safety Commission chairwoman, speaks during an interview in Tokyo on Sept. 29. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Collaboration between the agency and the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan and local-level consumer centers is key to addressing and minimizing consumer-related accidents, Okazaki said in a recent interview. "We must share information. (The agency is) asking the government to increase the number of officials at the organization."

The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, an independent administrative body tasked with protecting consumers, tests products and collects consumer information both directly and through local municipal consumer centers.

The Consumer Affairs Agency was established in September 2009 after a spate of food-related scares, including hard-to-swallow "konnyaku" (devil's tongue) jelly that caused more than 20 choking deaths.

Because the agency's role is to prevent consumer-related accidents by collecting and analyzing all consumer data and swiftly disclosing them, it has to strengthen ties with local centers, Okazaki said.

"It is important to share all information collected nationwide by the agency and the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, including on accidents and scams involving or targeting consumers," Okazaki said.

She said she will consider disclosing more information on consumer-related accidents to the public. Currently, the agency releases information to the public on major consumer-related accidents as stipulated in the consumer product safety act and the consumer safety act.

This includes fatal accidents and injuries that take more than 30 days to recover from.

"I believe consumers also want to know about (minor) accidents, so I want to expand the scope (of disclosure)," Okazaki said.

As for accidents attributed to misuse by consumers, Okazaki said, "Even in such cases, if the same accidents continue, (we must ask manufacturers) to rethink their products."

A TV newscaster for 22 years, Okazaki entered politics in 1990 by winning a seat in the Lower House as a member of the then Social Democratic Party of Japan. She left the party in 1996 to support the formation of the Democratic Party of Japan.

A veteran lawmaker, Okazaki has been a vocal supporter of the wartime "comfort women," who were forced into sexual servitude across Asia by the Imperial Japanese Army. In 2003, she was suspended as head of the party's National Rallying and Canvassing Committee after meeting with former Korean comfort women staging an anti-Japanese rally in Seoul.

Okazaki, also in charge of policies to raise the low birthrate and promote gender equality, noted the importance of increasing the number of women in leading roles.

"I believe society as a whole and the business community want more female leaders," she said. "Women's participation will lead to the revitalization of society. I want to raise women's employment rate."



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