By today’s fast-moving internet news and media standards, this is an old story. We first read about it in the online English edition of Japan’s Daily Yomiuri one month ago. Nevertheless, this story is important because it concerns likely human rights violations in Japan, one of the most economically- and technologically-advanced countries on the planet. Based on an article published by the Daily Yomiuri, and a more recent piece published just over a week ago by the New York Times, it has become apparent that the United States’ State Department considers Japan’s foreign trainee program to be harmful for most of its foreign participants, and in some ways very similar to human trafficking. The program, which is run by the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), is designed to recruit foreign nationals primarily from China and countries in Southeast Asia who want to learn technology and language skills by doing hands-on work for companies in Japan. It is currently estimated that 190,000 such foreigners participate in the program, mostly working in factories and on farms where they are reportedly subjected to substandard working and living conditions. According to the Daily Yomiuri, the majority of the mainland Chinese applying for the program are financially exploited by Chinese brokers in Japan, who typically charge fees of $1,400 or more so clients can secure a place in the program. And once placed with employers in Japan, many program participants have reported having passports and travel documents confiscated, and their movements and attempts at overseas communication monitored or restricted. The U.S. State Department considers factors such as this indicative of on-going human rights violations, which is whyJapan has received a Tier 2 “Watch List” rating in the most recent U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report. Sadly, this is the seventh straight yearJapan has gotten this rating in this annual State Department document. You can read the preliminary Daily Yomiuri piece about this situation here, and read the more in-depth New York Times article about the JITCO program here.