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Osaka human rights NPO looking to prevent workplace 'racial harassment'

Mun Gong Hwi, head of the secretariat at the Osaka-based nonprofit organization Multi-Ethnic Human Rights Education Center for Pro-existence, speaks at a seminar on human rights in Chuo Ward, Osaka, on Feb. 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- A nonprofit organization here is boosting efforts to prevent "racial harassment" of people based in their citizenship, roots, skin color and other aspects of their outward appearance and identity, as the country looks forward to a future with far more foreign residents.

Mun Gong Hwi, head of the secretariat at the Osaka-based nonprofit organization Multi-Ethnic Human Rights Education Center for Pro-existence, noted that people in the United States tend to be aware that such harassment is an infringement on human rights, and that "preventative measures similar to those for sexual harassment are urgently needed in Japan" as the number of foreign workers rises.

"If a new company employee of foreign nationality introduces themself with their real name, and their new coworkers say, 'What the heck is that? It's so hard to remember,' then that's harassment," said Mun. This is part of the 49-year-old's presentation for human rights seminars the NPO gives at companies, pointing out that catching slips like these with no apparent ill intent can stop the harassment problem from growing worse.

Mun also visited the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare last March to explain the realities of this type of harassment and call for a countermeasure policy.

In 2016, the education center asked 100 people in their 20s to their 60s with roots in foreign regions such as Asia and Europe about their workplace experiences. Eighty-six of the respondents said that they had been "the target of teasing or insults about distinct features of my appearance or culture." Fifty-eight people said their professional successes or failures had been "attributed to my race, ethnicity or citizenship." A majority of respondents also said they had felt "disgust" and "sadness" at work.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there were some 2.56 million foreign residents in Japan at the end of 2017 -- a 7.5 percent rise from the year before and the highest number on record. As the foreign population grows, the center has put its focus on human rights in Japanese workplaces, and is producing educational booklets to promote those ideals.

While hate speech targeting specific ethnic groups or races is now widely recognized as a human rights issue in Japan, racial harassment can manifest as seemingly casual, off-hand comments and actions.

One 45-year-old Korean resident of Japan told the Mainichi Shimbun that a previous workplace had asked to see her alien registration card (since scrapped for permanent Korean residents of Japan in favor of special permanent resident certificates. Korean residents of Japan with this status are typically from families that have been in the country for generations).

"There is no law requiring (an employer) to confirm the foreign status of a special permanent resident," the woman pointed out. "The company had no knowledge of this, and it didn't seem like they asked (to see the card) with any discriminatory intent," she recalled.

Mun told the Mainichi, "Denying a person's nationality or roots is like denying the person themself. I'd like to see measures starting to be implemented, like banning racial discrimination under work regulations."

(Japanese original by Yukinao Kin, Osaka City News Department)

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