On October 24th, Human Rights Now – New York and Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice hosted a panel discussion on human rights concerns surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the New York City Bar Association, NYCBA.
In less than two years, Tokyo will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In recent years, organizers of international mega-sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup must increasingly comply with social responsibility, environmental and human rights standards.
The panel discussion focused on human rights violations occurring in the construction materials supply chain, and the challenges that Japan, as the host country, must address in order to meet its international human rights obligations. The discussion focused on the following questions:
• What human rights have historically been most at risk prior to and during global mega-sporting events?
• What can Japan, the business community, and the human rights community do to prevent labor and human rights violations at the Olympic construction site for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo?
• Mr. David Segall, Research Scholar and Policy Associate, NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights
• Mr. Kenneth Rivlin, Esq., Partner, Allen & Overy
• Ms. Kazuko Ito, Esq., Secretary-General, Human Rights Now
Ms. Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste, Esq., Program Director, Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice
Kazuko Ito, on business and human rights in Asia
To open, Ms. Ito highlighted various human rights violations occurring in the subcontracting factories of large companies in Asian countries. These include poor working conditions and other violations occurring in the supply chains of a number of companies that HRN has investigated, and in particular in Japanese apparel companies where labor abuses in the supply chain helped the companies to sustain enormous profit margins. Corporations frequently make public gestures toward improving human rights conditions when NGOs uncover and criticize such violations. However, Japanese corporations have yet to enact and put into action due diligence policies that are adequate to ensure respect for human rights. Likewise, Japan has yet to outline an action plan for implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). As demonstrated by the high numbers of deaths in Japanese society due to overwork as well as suicides resulting from chronic stress and long working hours, including among non-Japanese migrant workers, Japanese society has a long way to go in raising awareness of labor and other human rights in business settings.
David Segall and Kevin Rivlin, on human rights violations and word sporting events
Mr. Segall’s presentation highlighted the challenges facing migrant workers employed to support huge sporting events such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. Rights violations seen in these settings include not only low wages, but also many cases of delayed and unpaid wages for on-site workers involved in event venue construction. A range of other problems such as dangerous working and living conditions and even physical abuse by supervisors constitute grave human rights abuses frequently faced by migrant workers.
In international law, migrant workers’ rights are enshrined in the International Labor Organization’s Convention on International Migrant Workers. Unfortunately, the gap between the law and the reality of migrant labor rights globally is large.
Mr. Rivlin discussed a range of topics including the importance of due diligence by all stakeholders across sectors when prepping for a large world sporting event. Vendors and contractors with due diligence obligations include event organizers, sponsor companies, and construction contractors. Mr. Rivlin also cited several incidents where human rights were violated prior to and during past Olympic Games, including the 2012 Olympic Games in South Africa, where uniforms were found to have been produced using child laborers; the 1968 Mexico Olympics, where 300 unarmed student protesters were massacred by the government in Tlatelolco Plaza; the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where thousands of families were forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for Olympics-related construction; and the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, where the games inspired increased repression and arrests of civil society activists by the local government.
Toward the Tokyo Olympic Games
Each panelist addressed human rights standards in relation to current preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games. All panelists agreed that the official procurement code set by the Japanese Olympic Committee must be properly implemented in order to be effective. The death of several field workers during the construction of the stadium highlighted the ongoing gap between the official legal standards and reality.
In addition to working to protect laborers in the lead-up, during, and in the aftermath of the Olympic Games, panelists agreed that the human rights community should seize the opportunity to translate Olympics-related international attention into an increased awareness of business and human rights within Japan. The panelists outlined that the Japanese government and the companies involved should be pushed to formulate and implement robust corporate social responsibility policies. Furthermore, the human rights community should work to raise awareness among the Japanese public around familiar issues such as hate speech, child pornography, and human trafficking, highlighting that these constitute serious international human rights violations.
The Cyrus R. Vance Center’s summary of the event is available at the following link: http://www.vancecenter.org/business-and-human-rights/
To find out more about Human Rights Now’s work on business and human rights, please visit the following page: http://hrn.or/jp/eng/business-and-human-rights/