TOKYO (TR) – Advertising firm Dentsu was awarded “Most Evil Corporation of the Year” on Friday by a panel of labor experts, following the suicide of a female employee whose suicide was ruled by the government as death by overwork.
The 11-member panel, which includes a lawyer, a journalist, and labor experts, chose Dentsu in light of government findings that Matsuri Takashi, 24, clocked 130 hours of overtime in a single month and was regularly bullied by superiors, NHK reports (Dec. 23).
The panel spotlights companies that repeat harmful practices such as “power harassment, sexual harassment, unpaid overtime, [and] extended work hours” and “sometimes even drive workers to death,” according to its website.
Eleven so-called “black” or exploitative companies were shortlisted this year, including discount retail chain Don Quijote, which was fined for forcing illegal overtime on workers. Kansai Electric Power Co. was also named after one of its male workers committed suicide from karoshi, meaning death by overwork.
Ryo Sasaki, a lawyer on the award panel, said Dentsu was chosen because “we wanted [companies] to treat the human rights of workers with care in light of not just the karoshi suicides by newly hired employees in the past but also all the other painful incidents as well.”
“We want [companies] to make solid strides in preventing long work hours and harassment,” Sasaki said.
The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare plans to establish an office dedicated to addressing excessive labor, which will investigate companies on a full-time basis for illegal and long overtime hours and hire 50 additional labor standard inspectors following growing criticism of certain major companies as “black” companies in recent years, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.
130 hours of overtime
Dentsu was widely condemned after the Tokyo Labor Bureau found that Takahashi had clocked 130 hours of overtime in October and 99 hours in November, with constant late nights and work on what should have been her days off.
Takahashi’s tweets highlighted Dentsu’s abusive work culture, including one where she said her boss said her “overtime is useless to this company.”
Another tweet on November 21, 2015, read: “I’m a newcomer 23-year-old OL [office lady] who has fallen into transmigration, where no matter how late I come home, I have to search for new cat videos for an hour every night or else I can’t sleep. My biggest worry is the residence tax starting next June, and what I look forward to every month is going to Tsukiji for sushi alone on pay day.”
Dentsu responded by prohibiting work after 10 p.m., and is moving to improve work conditions by reducing the upper limit of monthly overtime by five hours.
Dentsu also announced plans on Thursday to establish a hotline that workers as well as their family members can call to discuss their well-being, and a “work-from-home system” is also in the works for employees involved in childcare and nursing care.
Dentsu’s outlook ‘hasn’t changed at all’
Despite the show of effort, a Dentsu employee told NHK that while the measures against long work hours are having a certain effect, many colleagues still take their work home and the company’s outlook remains unchanged.
“There are far less cases of unreasonably long work hours being forced on workers, like being forced to do late nights after being told ‘finish this by tomorrow,’ because of the overtime guidelines that clearly say until 10 p.m.,” the Dentsu employee said.
“The company’s outlook hasn’t changed at all. The way things stand right now, some people are taking more and more work home” the employee said. “I heard some workers are taking work to places like family restaurants, cafes and their homes.”
“There still remains that jock-esque corporate culture of unreasonable power harassment and abusive words that ignore human rights,” the Dentsu worker said. “The kind of corporate culture that’s like, ‘You’ll never be a Dentsu man if you can’t survive this [abuse] like I did.’”
‘Work for three months with no breaks’
Before Takahashi’s suicide was brought to light, Dentsu carried out harsh guidance that was essentially abuse of power, particularly toward new employees.
“For departments where work was tough, it was natural for new workers to come in on Saturdays and Sundays and work for three months with no breaks,” the worker said. “They would be packed into rooms where abusive words were hurled at time, even about personal things.”
“Dentsu’s abuse of power and its corporate culture is to blame for the latest incident, so I really want each and every employee to reflect on their behavior and repent for the fact that it all resulted in someone becoming a victim,” the worker said.