OSAKA -- Japanese cosmetics giant DHC Corp., which faced a harsh blowback starting late last year for publishing a letter discriminating against ethnic Koreans on its website, quietly sent notes of apology to its local government partners, it has been learned. Publicly, however, the company has neither apologized for nor explained the slur-laced letter posted under the name of its CEO. It also demanded local governments that received the secretly delivered apology not to reveal its contents.
The letter was posted on the DHC homepage in November 2020, and signed by company Chairman and CEO Yoshiaki Yoshida. Referring to a competitor by name, the letter's passages included, "For some reason the talent used in (the company's) commercials are almost all Japanese people of Korean descent," and used a Japanese slur for people of Korean heritage. It also stated that "DHC is a pure Japanese company all the way."
Another post containing the baseless declaration, "Right now, the majority of the people that make up Japan's core are ethnic Koreans, and that is extremely dangerous for Japan," was published on the DHC website in April this year.
All the discriminatory posts were taken down by the end of May this year amid mounting criticism. However, the company has neither responded to the news media's reporting requests nor human rights groups' demands for an apology. But DHC has admitted wrongdoing to partner local governments.
As of April, the cosmetics firm had partnership agreements with more than 20 municipalities to promote local health or industry, dispensing its supplements to residents. Recently, many of those municipalities have canceled the agreements.
The Mainichi Shimbun filed information requests with DHC's local government partners, and four municipalities including Moriya, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Naganuma, Hokkaido, disclosed a total of about 70 pages of documents.
According to the Moriya documents, a DHC representative visited the city hall on June 9 and explained the sequence of events leading to the incident to Mayor Nobuhisa Matsumaru and other officials. The DHC representative handed over a written apology stating, "We acknowledge responsibility for the letter containing inappropriate content related to human rights, and retract the comments," and, "We hereby solemnly pledge not to do anything like this again." The representative explained that "the chairman did not expect the letter to have such a broad impact, and is regretful. It seems he wanted people to listen to his personal opinion."
Furthermore, the DHC employee expressed reluctance to explain or apologize publicly. They added, "We will not explain why the (chairman's) letter was taken down or any other related details," and, "We won't provide any comments in response to inquiries." Regarding the written apology given to the city of Moriya, the representative said, "It's all right for you to explain the content to the news media, but we do not want you to release the text." The apology also did not bear the company's official seal.
Moriya residents of Korean descent submitted a petition to the municipal assembly to "dissolve the (DHC) partnership at the earliest possible date," and the assembly adopted the petition in a unanimous vote in June. The city has also heard from more of its residents demanding that it end its DHC partnership. A representative of Moriya's secretarial section told the Mainichi, "We are agonizing over the decision. We would like to decide on a direction in August."
The Hokkaido town of Naganuma, which also received a written apology for the repeated discriminatory posts on DHC's website, decided to maintain its partnership with the company. However, DHC has repeatedly insisted to the town that the chairman's posts "expressed a growing sense of crisis that most of the vital posts in Japan are occupied by Korean residents of the country," duplicating the letter's message.
DHC has refused the Mainichi's reporting requests.
International human rights law expert and Osaka University of Economics and Law professor Emi Sugawara said of DHC's response, "The company is probably trying to put out this fire by just explaining things to the local governments, which are business partners." She added, "Unless they release information about this to the Korean resident community, which has felt the impact of racial discrimination, I don't think we can say that the company has fulfilled its responsibility to explain what happened."
Korean residents in Japan are also criticizing DHC's moves. An Osaka-based nonprofit organization that provides education on human rights and multiculturalism has twice demanded an apology from the company, but reportedly received no reply. The organization's secretary-general KongHwi Moon told the Mainichi, "It's a heavy crime for the leader of a company with a lot of social influence to come out with hate speech. The chairman himself should apologize publicly."
(Japanese original by Yukina Furukawa, Osaka City News Department)