U.N. rights rapporteur says end foreign trainee program ‘slavery’

A visiting U.N. expert on the rights of migrants urged the government Wednesday to terminate its industrial trainee and technical intern program for workers from overseas, saying it may amount to “slavery” in some cases, fueling demand for exploitative cheap labor in possible violation of human rights.

“This program should be discontinued and replaced by an employment program,” Jorge Bustamante, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights of migrants, told reporters at the U.N. Information Center in Tokyo.

While praising some government measures to alleviate the impact of the economic crisis on the foreign population, Bustamante noted the country still faces a range of challenges, including racism, discrimination and exploitation of migrants, based on information provided by civil society.

“Racism and discrimination based on nationality are still too common in Japan, including in the workplace, in schools, in health care establishments and housing,” he said.

“Japan should adopt specific legislation on the prevention and elimination of racial discrimination, since the current general provisions included in the Constitution and existing laws are not effective in protecting foreign residents from discrimination based on race and nationality,” Bustamante said.

Since his arrival in the country on March 23 for an official inspection, Bustamante has interviewed migrants and their families, including Filipinos and Brazilians in Nagoya, and discussed the issues with ministry and agency officials.

Japanese civic groups supporting migrants said it is significant that a U.N. expert has conducted an assessment of human rights of migrants in Japan, which has yet to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

He will submit a report on his visit to the U.N. Human Rights Council to present his findings, conclusions and recommendations possibly in September or October after submitting a draft to the Japanese government.

Following a series of meetings and discussions he has held in the country, Bustamante pointed out that a number of parents of Japanese-born children or those who have lived in the country for a long time have been deported or detained due to their irregular residence status.

“In accordance with the principle of the best interest of the child, families should not be separated,” he said.

Assigned in July 2005 to the post created in 1999, Bustamante’s main responsibilities include examining ways of overcoming obstacles to the protection of migrants’ human rights.