The Polaris Project is a nationally-renowned anti-human trafficking organization in America, with a unique presence in Japan. Run by Ms. Shihoko Fujiwara, the Japan office has for the last seven years worked to peel back the veil of ignorance that surrounds human trafficking in the world’s third largest economy, while serving both Japanese and foreign victims who are discovered in the country. As part of its efforts to connect human trafficking in Japan to the broader trends of human trafficking among receiving countries in the region, the Polaris Project held an International Symposium on Transnational Human Trafficking in Tokyo on November 8th. I was fortunate to be invited to attend the event and to speak at the closed door session afterwards.
Speakers at the symposium came from two of Japan’s neighbors, Taiwan and South Korea, as well as the United States. These specialists frankly described challenges they faced in dealing with trafficking within their own borders, including awareness and action among their governments, human rights issues that victims faced, as well as the more technical challenges inherent in prosecuting human trafficking. Japanese speakers included the Cabinet Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare, one national Diet member, as well as the Secretary-General of the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations.
Even the private sector was represented, featuring a passionate speech by the Japanese President of the Body Shop, a corporation that has committed itself to fighting human trafficking across the globe. Having lived, worked, and been actively engaged with Japan over the last ten years, it was quite rare to hear a Japanese executive speak frankly and passionately about eradicating human trafficking.
Sadly, no Japanese police, prosecutors or other civil servants responsible for creating and carrying out anti-trafficking policies answered Polaris’ invitations to speak on the country’s own efforts. It was some consolation that in the audience of over 150 people, more than one third of attendees were reportedly government officers. While the government may not be willing to speak publicly about the problem, as all of its neighbors have, it appeared at least willing to listen.
Doug MacLean is a 3L J.D. student who specializes in human trafficking and other human rights issues throughout the Pacific Rim. He has worked on human trafficking issues for over five years, including legislative development for state governments, advocacy at the Polaris Project and as a legal aide at the United Nations. He can be reached at email@example.com.