Work being done to prepare for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo is raising concerns about worker safety. A report entitled, “The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics,” published last month by the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) union, claims that laborers – many of them foreign workers – are being overworked and discouraged from reporting poor employment conditions. Some are required to purchase their own personal protective equipment.
The union is critical of the Tokyo city government and the Japan Sport Council, which are behind structures like a $1.25 billion national stadium and the Olympic Village. After the Olympic Games, both will be sold as high-end apartments.
The BWI report said about 55,000 migrant workers are employed in the construction sector, making wages well below those paid to Japanese workers. “Dangerous patterns of overwork” were found at Olympic construction sites, with some employees 28 consecutive days. Japan actually has a term for death by overwork: “karoshi.” Two workers have died on Olympic-related construction projects."
BWI investigators found that a complaint that was filed about a poorly lit area resulting in an injury to the worker was rejected "because it had been brought by the union instead of the affected individual." Additionally, the lighting was removed in its entirety.
The BMI said workers reported a pervasive “culture of fear,” in which they were discouraged from making complaints on working conditions, for fear that they might be reprimanded or lose their job.
The Centre for Sport and Human Rights is calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Japanese government and construction companies to take a serious look at the risks identified in the BWI report.
The IOC issued a statement that it is taking the issues seriously and working to address them with “relevant stakeholders.” The organization has added UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to its host city contracts, but the change will not take effect until the 2024 Paris Olympics.
With its population declining and aging, Japan is increasingly relying on foreign workers.