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Dentsu's criminal trial over employee's overwork-induced suicide sends strong message

Dentsu Inc.'s headquarters in Tokyo's Minato Ward is seen in this Nov. 7, 2016 file photo taken from a Mainichi helicopter. (Mainichi)

The criminal trial of advertising giant Dentsu Inc. regarding the overwork-induced suicide of an employee is putting pressure on other Japanese companies to reform their corporate culture in which long working hours are often expected.

The suicide of Matsuri Takahashi, 24, in December 2015 is not the first such case at Dentsu. In 1991, an employee in his second year with the company killed himself due to overwork. In 2000, Dentsu settled a lawsuit filed by his bereaved family against the firm after it agreed to pay compensation and offer an apology.

However, the company had been instructed by labor standards inspection offices to rectify long working hours on at least three occasions since 2010.

Nevertheless, Takahashi took her own life, prompting labor authorities to launch a compulsory investigation into the case.

Individuals who violate the Labor Standards Act only face light punishment, and companies can be punished with only a fine.

In the past, prosecutors filed summary indictments with the Tokyo Summary Court following similar cases, but in the latest case involving Dentsu, the court chose to hold an open, full-scale trial instead of a summary trial. The court has thus sent a strong message to society that companies must not continue the practice of illegally long work hours.

Society must learn lessons from the trial of Dentsu and consider how to build a society where no one else dies from overwork.

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