Japan lags in addressing harassment

January 15, 1993|By Asahi News Service

TOKYO -- Japanese businesses still tend to make light of women's complaints of sexual harassment and have not developed an effective system to prevent harassment or to work out solutions once a problem is found, according to legal experts.

Many sexually harassed women have nobody at the office to seek redress from and little choice but to quit their jobs to escape harassment.

Most who take action bring their cases to attorneys and municipal government labor-issue specialists.

A counselor in the Tokyo government Labor Administration Division said a common thread running through sexual harassment cases at Japanese offices is that management does not take the complaints seriously.

He cited the case of a woman who was forced to quit her job after refusing to date her boss. The company was ultimately forced to discipline the man and pay compensation to the woman. She sought advice from the division in 1991.

The woman had been frequently asked by her superior to go drinking with him after office hours and he eventually demanded she have an affair with him.

After she refused, the man would not talk to her. She brought the case to the company's personnel division but was told that her situation involved emotions and that the personnel division would not step in.

Pushed by Tokyo's Labor Administration Division, the company finally looked into her complaint.

"Management usually doesn't expect a woman to file a complaint with us or with the courts," said Masaomi Kaneko, a labor specialist with the Tokyo Labor Administration Division. "They become aware of the seriousness of the problem for the first time when the unexpected happens."

Attorney Kazue Danbayashi said that in dealing with sexual harassment, corporate Japan is still far behind the United States. There, most companies have regulations to prevent sexual harassment and many provide information and opportunities for workers to learn to deal with the problem.

Avon Products Co., the Tokyo-based subsidiary of the U.S. cosmetics company, introduced U.S.-based sexual harassment guidelines in February 1992. The most severe penalty is dismissal from the company.

About 1,400 of Avon's 1,800 employees are women. There have been no cases of sexual harassment so far, a company spokeswoman said.

The Osaka-based Total Management Consultation Group provides seminars and training on sexual harassment prevention.

"It is a disadvantage for management to have an atmosphere in the office women want to get away from, now that women have become indispensable part of the work force," said Ryuhei Masuno, an executive of the company.

However, he said that the group's lecturers are often requested by company executives to not let it be known -- even to other companies -- that their company has sought advice, apparently fearing that they would be identified as an employer with sexual harassment troubles.

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