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CEO of Japanese cosmetics firm criticized over anti-Korean slur on company website

The written piece attributed to DHC Corp. Chairman and CEO Yoshiaki Yoshida is seen on the company's official website in this image taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Aya Shiota)

TOKYO -- The head of major cosmetics firm DHC Corp. has come under fire from human rights experts over a post on the company's official website which claims that a rival firm affiliated with Suntory Holdings Ltd. almost exclusively uses Korean people living in Japan as performers in its commercials.

    The post, which was published online under Chairman and CEO Yoshiaki Yoshida's name, includes content discriminating against people with roots in the Korean Peninsula. Experts in hate speech issues have criticized the post, saying, "It is incitement to discrimination from a major company with significant societal influence; their responsibility is great."

    The offending piece was published on DHC's official online shopping site in November under the title "On the desperate lottery." In the post attributed to Yoshida, he compares his firm's supplements with those of their competitors, writing, "They're selling products that would go for 500 yen (about $4.80) from DHC at close to 5,000 yen (roughly $48)"

    It goes on to say, "A section of consumers are, to be blunt, stupid, so they assume the higher the price tag, the better the product, and they pay up obediently."

    The post mentions a rival Suntory-affiliated firm by name, and then claims without any backup, "For some reason the talent used in Suntory's commercials are almost all Japanese people of Korean descent." "Chon," a pejorative term for people from the Korean Peninsula, is also used in the text to say, "That's apparently why the firm is mocked as Chontory online." It then reads, "From the performers it employs and beyond, DHC is a pure Japanese company all the way."

    The post was criticized by users on Twitter, who called it "hate speech" and "an unconcealed attempt to incite discrimination," among other messages. From the morning of Dec. 16, a hashtag in Japanese that translates as "not buying products from discriminatory company DHC" began trending.

    Japan's anti-hate speech law, which came into effect in 2016, classes acts such as "openly announcing intentions to harm people's life, body, liberty, reputation or property with the objective of promoting or provoking discriminatory ideas" or "significantly insulting people from outside Japan," as "inappropriate discriminatory actions and speech that incite the exclusion of people from outside Japan from local communities." The Human Rights Bureau at the Ministry of Justice takes the view that the law additionally includes acts that "defame a specific ethnic group by referring to them with pejorative names."

    Yasuko Morooka, a lawyer and expert on human rights issues, said of DHC's post, "It's not just that people with Korean roots are being treated with contempt through its use of pejorative names, but that its content affirms they don't hire people like them for commercials, making it an example of hate speech that fulfills the definition as described in the anti-hate speech law. It's unforgivable."

    Morooka added, "The anti-hate speech law stipulates that the people of this country must strive to contribute to creating a society free from unjust, discriminatory acts and words. But the post is at direct odds with this concept. The greater the influence a public figure or a company has in society, the larger the effect of their inciting discrimination is. The societal responsibility that DHC shoulders by continuing to display these pieces on its official website is heavy."

    DHC's PR department replied to an emailed requested for comment on Dec. 16, saying, "We don't have any particular response to your inquiry on this matter."

    A representative at Suntory responded to the Mainichi Shimbun, saying "We'd like to refrain from commenting on content written on another company's website. Suntory sets down human rights policies, and as a part of society recognizes the importance of respecting human rights."

    Regarding how the post could be responded to, Morooka said, "Although the anti-hate speech law has no provisions for punishments, if Suntory, the named party in this case, were to file a complaint for human rights infringement to the Ministry of Justice's Human Rights Bureau, the ministry could recognize it as both a case of defamation and hate speech, and issue an advisory to take down the offending post.

    "The national government has a responsibility to end discrimination based on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and I want to see Suntory also exercise its societal responsibility to ensure a community without discrimination."

    In 2017, DHC's affiliate company DHC Television Co., which Yoshida also chairs, and other firms were criticized over a broadcast of their current affairs program "News Joshi" (News girls). The program slot was bought from terrestrial TV station Tokyo MX, which DHC sponsors. The show described people engaging in anti-U.S. base building movements in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa as "looking like terrorists," and speculated that a woman who represents a citizens group was the "mastermind." As a result of this, Tokyo MX was warned by the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization in March 2018 that there had been "human rights violations" on MX's part.

    (Japanese original by Aya Shiota, Integrated Digital News Center)

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