Tag Archives: Trade

Japan’s Consumers See No Merits from TPP

 

Statement of Consumers Union of Japan

Japan’s Consumers See No Merits from TPP

March 9, 2018

With the controversial signing today of the TPP11 in Chile, Consumers Union of Japan is concerned that “consumers” are not mentioned even once in the formal agreement. “There can be no merits to our health or the environment, or to future generations, when only the interests of private corporations were taken into concern by the TPP negotiators,” says Koketsu Michiyo, General Secretary of CUJ. “More trade in products like cars and beef will further harm the climate, and make life even more difficult for Japan’s farmers, without any consideration of our democratic rights as citizens,” notes Ono Kazuoki, Co-chair of CUJ. “We are not in favour of a trade agreement that erodes rather than strengthens consumers’ right to know, for example if the imported food and feed is genetically modified or not,” says Amagasa Keisuke, Co-chair of CUJ.

The lack of proper consultation with stakeholders by the Japanese government, the secrecy during the negotiations, and the rush to sign the agreement even after the United States pulled out, are further problems that Consumers Union of Japan have identified, together with other allies in civil society in Japan and in the 10 other countries involved.

Consumers Union of Japan

1-9-19-207 Nishi-Waseda,

Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ) is a politically and financially independent non-governmental organization (NGO). CUJ is funded by membership fees, sales of its publications and donations. CUJ was founded in April 1969 as Japan’s first nationwide grassroots consumer organization.

 

Consumers in Japan and Europe want Guarantees for a Positive Trade Agreement

Consumers Union of Japan and The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) would like to provide input on the EU-Japan trade agreement. The technical negotiations between Japan and the EU are about to start and the final agreement will cover a broad range of economic sectors and inevitably affect consumers. This phase provides the opportunity for both sides to demonstrate that trade can deliver to consumers.

To:
Commissioner Cecilia Malmström
European Commission
Rue de la Loi, 200 1049 Brussels Belgium

Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko
Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Cabinet Secretariat
1-6-1 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100 – 8968, Japan

September 6, 2017

Subject: Consumers in Japan and Europe want guarantees for a positive trade agreement

Dear Commissioner Malmström,
Dear Minister Seko,
Dear Minister Kono,

Consumers Union of Japan and The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) would like to provide input on the EU-Japan trade agreement. The technical negotiations between Japan and the EU are about to start and the final agreement will cover a broad range of economic sectors and inevitably affect consumers. This phase provides the opportunity for both sides to demonstrate that trade can deliver to consumers.

Place consumers at the heart of the agreement
A trade agreement is not only about getting better market access for companies. It is also about delivering real benefits to consumers while ensuring they are protected. Unfortunately, the benefits for consumers are not yet clear. This is because consumer benefits have not been placed at the heart of the agreement at the early stages of the process. For this to happen, we recommend applying the checklist in attachment to the entire agreement.

Better involve consumer organisations
Modern trade agreements like the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement are supposed to be designed for all, including consumers. For this to happen, consumer organisations must be involved in the negotiations phase and beyond. If properly involved in the negotiating and implementing processes, consumer organisations can provide constructive input and contribute to a deal which benefits consumers. We call on you to explicitly mention consumer organisations as stakeholders in the article on the domestic advisory group of the Chapter for Trade and Sustainable Development.

Refrain from including an investor to State dispute settlement
Investor to State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) systems have proven harmful to consumers and the public interest in the past, as foreign investors have used them to challenge and undermine consumer protections. Despite some improvements proposed by the EU with the Investment Court System and the idea of creating a multilateral court, there are high risks for consumers. Foreign investors will still be able to threaten governments with lawsuits for compensation when governments, for example, adopt ambitious laws that protect consumers. This could deter governments from introducing new protections and lead to a regulatory chill. Moreover, we need to see empirical evidence of the need for such a system between the EU and Japan which would only protect investors and keep foreign direct investment flowing. Therefore, our organisations call on you to refrain from introducing such systems in the final agreement.

Ensure better food labelling rules

This trade agreement should improve food labelling rules so that Japanese consumers have at least the same level of information as consumers in Europe. This is especially the case for food additives, the right to know what foods are genetically modified or not, and which foods contain, consist of or are obtained from GMOs. Country of origin labels should be encouraged as they provide consumers with the right to know where food is coming from.

Make sure regulatory dialogue benefits and protects consumers
Dialogue between EU and Japanese regulators should have the firm objective to enhance consumer welfare. These regulatory exchanges must remain voluntary. However, a trade agreement is not the place to define guidelines on good regulatory practices, notably as Governments want to protect their right to regulate.

Transparency must continue
Transparency is a precondition for people to trust trade agreements. We welcomed the publication of the agreed texts on the EU side by the time of the political conclusion. To restore consumer trust in trade deals, we urgently call on both sides to publish their negotiating positions, texts, including consolidated versions, and communicate better on the content of the future agreement during this technical phase. In particular, the agreed texts must be translated into Japanese and published as soon as possible.

We trust that you will take our views into account and we remain at your disposal for further discussion.

Yours sincerely,

Monique Goyens
Director General
European Consumer Organisation

Ono Kazuoki & Amagasa Keisuke
Co-chairpersons
Consumers Union of Japan

Critics Want UNIQLO to Improve Factory Conditions

Interview with SACOM’s Sophie Chen: “Violation of Human Rights at UNIQLO Factories Continues”

 

Fast Retailing (FR) has grown to become Japan’s top fashion enterprise, known for selling high quality clothes at relatively low prices under the brand name UNIQLO. One would assume that such high performance is due to efforts including planning and reducing waste in the entire chain from production to sales. Instead, there is a dark side to the success of FR and UNIQLO including long overtime conditions and general violations of workers’ human rights. Consumers Union of Japan talked to Sophie Chen at the Hong Kong-based NGO Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) when she visited Tokyo in March, 2016, together with Human Rights Now. This was her second visit to Japan after revealing the results of SACOM’s first investigation in January, 2015.

 

Q: Please tell us about the purpose of your second visit to Japan!

 

A: In January 2015, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), Labour Action China (LAC), and a Tokyo-based organization, Human Rights Now, jointly launched the first investigation into labour conditions at two of UNIQLO’s key suppliers in China: Pacific Textile Ltd (Pan Yu) and Dongguan Luen Thai Garment Co., Ltd. Fast Retailing acknowledged the validity of several of our findings. In July 2015 they released a CSR action report listing the corrections they claimed to have done. For example, they suggested reducing the amount of overtime at the factories and a renewal of the drainage system to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals. Following this, we completed a follow-up investigation to examine whether the corrective measures FR claimed had in fact been done, and to check the current working condition in both factories. We found that employers still don’t pay the mandatory social insurance premiums, which include pension and maternity leave insurance. Workers are not educated about the risks associated with chemicals, and protective gear is not made available. As for overtime, it is still not unusual for workers to do up to 150 hours a month, in addition to their regular 160 hours.

 

The purpose of this visit is to make Japanese consumers aware of the violations against workers’ human rights in new factories in China and Cambodia. This is the reality. For example, labour unions that should represent the workers and propose improvements are being pressured by the factory owners, and fair union elections are difficult to carry out. There have even been cases of dismissal and police arrests of union leaders.

 

Q: What does Fast Retailing say?

 

A: Well, the factories that makes UNIQLO’s clothes insist that the responsibility lies with Fast Retailing, but at the same time, the brand itself is where the real profits come. Thus UNIQLO’s role in the big supply chain means that they should shoulder the largest responsibility. It could be argued that the severe working conditions are a direct result of FR’s high quality standards. Factories that don’t deliver will not get the contracts, and penalties are imposed when there are delays or issues. Due to the low profit margin at the factory level, the workers’ salaries are low. This means that workers must work overtime to be able to make a living. Companies like H&M have shown that it is possible to step in and change the conditions for the factory workers that supply their clothes. We are simply asking Fast Retailing to make these changes.

 

Q: What can consumers do?

 

A: When buying clothes, people need to think about the working conditions and imagine the situation that those who make them are in. When consumers start making an appeal to producers, their voices cannot be ignored. For example, it is effective to ask Fast Retailing about their CSR report. It will also be necessary to accept that we have to pay a higher price. It is worth pointing out that the inexpensive clothes are the reason people are being exploited. Don’t you think it is important to walk around dressed in a way that you know you have paid a fair price for?

(Interview by Yoko Sugiura & Kaori Hirouchi. Article first published in CUJ’s newsletter, Shouhisha Report No. 1584 April 20, 2016))

Event: Petition Campaign for Better Labelling of Genetically Modified Food

Consumers Union of Japan, the No! GMO Campaign and Food Safety Citizen’s Watch will hold an event in the Japanese Parliament to present the results so far of our petition campaign to collect signatures for better labelling of genetically modified food. The event will be an opportunity to discuss GM food in light of the new realities presented by the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that may soon be signed by 12 countries, including Japan. The TPP agreement also deals with cross-border trade barriers, and could mean that other countries or corporations may challenge Japan’s food labelling laws.

Since August, 2015 a large number of consumers have signed our petition to improve the mandatory GM labelling laws from 2000 to include all GM foods, and to lower the limit at which foods with GM ingredients must be labelled, which is currently 5% (for example, the limit in the European Union is 0.9%). We are strongly urging the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety to instruct the Consumer Agency to push for improved labelling of all GM foods in Japan, based on the fundamental principles of the consumers’ right to know and right to choose.

Date: January 27, 2016
Time: 13:30-15-30
Location: House of Representatives (Shugiin) 2nd Bldg. Hall 1, Nagatacho, Tokyo

Consumers Union of Japan Strongly Opposes the TPP Agreement

Consumers Union of Japan strongly opposes the TPP agreement as a whole, which we regard as a threat to our rights, and calls for a movement to prevent Japan from participating in the TPP

October 5, 2015
Consumers Union of Japan

On October 5, 2015, the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations were concluded at a ministerial round in the US city of Atlanta. Thus the TPP has reached a new stage. These complex negotiations still have contradictions and need further legal adjustments before countries can ratify the agreement and enact it into national legislation. The debates and deliberations will now also begin in earnest in the parliaments of each member country.

“From the standpoint of consumers and producers, it is clear that Japan’s automobile industry and auto part makers won a big victory over other interests, especially the nation’s farmers and agricultural lobby. The stark-naked truth is that farmers will face a TPP agreement that completely fails to live up to the many promises made to them. Instead, the interests of large corporation and big capital took top priority, while ordinary people and their living conditions are under threat,” says Ono Kazuoki, co-chair of Consumers Union of Japan.

Back in 2012, when the Liberal Democratic Party was in opposition, its position was against TPP. LDP made promises to oppose participation in the negotiations as long as they were premised on tariff abolition without sanctuary, especially for agriculture. Other conditions included the rejection of numerical targets for cars and the investor–state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause, as well as protection of food safety standards and Japan’s universal healthcare system. LDP even printed election posters that the party “does not lie” and that they opposed TPP, which they put up all over Japan. CUJ’s Ono Kazuaki notes: “For example, in April, 2013, both Houses of Japan’s parliament agreed that tariffs on rice, pork and beef, wheat, barley and sugarcane should not be affected by TPP. These promises and parliamentary resolutions have now largely been broken by the outcomes of the TPP negotiations.”

There is strong opposition and a movement of people against TPP not only in Japan but in many countries, including the US, Australia and New Zealand. This is truly a growing international movement. More and more people realize that their right to safe food is being disregarded, while their access to medicines will be more restricted by higher costs and patent rules. For family farmers and small-scale agriculture, the onslaught of imported goods will make their survival impossible. “Consumers Union of Japan will now step up its campaign against TPP both domestically and internationally. We will cooperate with the civic movement and protest against the TPP from the point of view of consumers and citizens,” says Ono Kazuoki.

We strongly urge the Japanese government to exit the TPP agreement unless the following conditions are met: admit that it violates the pledges made to the Japanese people, and start new negotiations between the participating countries with a clean slate.

(END)

Contact:
Consumers Union of Japan
Address: Nishi Waseda 1-9-19-207 Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo, Japan (169-0051)
E-mail: office.w@nishoren.org
Fax: +81-(0)3-5155-4767