No.20,October 1997

Editor:Tsutomu Uwagawa
Address:Rodo-Soken,Union Corp 3-3-1 Takinogawa,Kitaku,Tokyo,Japan(114)
Tel:03(3940)0523 Fax:03(5567)2968

We introduce two summaries of articles written by our two members in Japanese. We published the articles as part of the feature on gmultinationals and Asia" in our journal gRodo-Soken Quarterly," No.28, Autumn issue of 1997.

Japanese Multinational Corporations and Asia's Women Workers

Kazuoko Kawaguchi
Lecturer, Chuo University


Today they call Asia a ggrowth center of world economy," and it has followed the track of a remarkable economic development, closely related with Japanese corporations' strategy of multinationalism.

For Japan and other foreign capital, a biggest advantage of advancing to Asia is its low-waged laborers, particularly skillful-fingered women's workers who can obediently manage partial, repeated labor. It is no exaggeration to say that Asia's women workers are the mainstays of Asian countries' export-oriented intensive-labor industrialization based on introducing foreign capital. Therefore, the question of women labor is one indispensable angle to examine the present significance and direction of international solidarity between Japanese and other Asian workers under the global strategy.

In this article I would like to report about the women's laborers' present situation, based on my observation in Asian countries past few years.

1. From rural areas to urban areas, flow of women workers

Industrialization has caused a sharp increase of women workers. Its source of supply is the excessively overpopulated rural area, which has come to face the need for cash income due to efficiency-oriented modernization of agriculture. Farmers' daughters and wives under the large family patriarchy began largely to flow out into urban areas and factories to support the family budget. This process has also promoted disarticulating rural communities with their traditional life styles and with division of social strata.

The work places that would absorb these women's laborers consist roughly of four types:

First, Export Processing Zones set up as bases for the introduction of foreign capital employs exclusively workers, especially young and unmarried, who can endure simple and intensive labor. These workers are engaged in electric equipments and electronic components and so on by foreign-affiliated or joint venture manufacturing industries there.

Secondly, cities' slums are absorbing them. The flow of people now faces the cities with a rapid increasing population from rural areas. Industrialization policies have laid aside provision and maintenance of housing and other living-related facilities. The cities have resulted in creation of slum areas where the cities' excessive population piles up. These people have become stall keepers, peddlers, day laborers, or started small subcontract household industries producing clothes, food and other goods. These intensive labor household industries of informal sectors are ranked second in absorbing women laborers.

Thirdly, tourist industry under a remarkable development to find foreign currency is absorbing them. Most women work in amusement facilities, nightclubs, bars and other sexual entertainment or service industries.

Fourthly is the migrant work abroad. Based on disparity of economic development among Asian countries, women leaving their home to find jobs are working mostly within the Asian region.

2. Women's workers in EPZs and foreign-affiliated companies

Export Processing Zones are the best example that shows the actual conditions of women labor in Asia, where multinational corporations concentrate under their global strategy of modern capitalism.

Evry Export Processing Zone in Asia has clean factories standing in a row in its vast site. Many foreign-affiliated companies have only transferred to Asia labor-intensive manufacturing-process such as parts' assembly, and employ low-waged women's workers for it, leaving highly knowledge-intensive manufacturing process at home. In the electronics sector in particular, 90 percent of workers are women, most of whom are at the age of twenty to twenty-five. Their length of service is short, because harsh control of workers and highly intensive repeated work are only bearable for the young.

Based on their policy of industrialization by introducing foreign capital, Asian countries have established the labor standards as same level as that of developed countries. However, we observe legal regulations on late-night, overtime and holiday work by women only in a name in the Export Processing Zones, partly because of their flexible enforcement. Asia's labor laws and labor-management relations characterize looseness in regulating labor and safety standards, and strictness in controlling the labor union movement and its collective bargaining capacity. This has made women labor more unbearable.

For wages, with a minimum wage of a certain area set as gstandard," workers cannot earn as much as the gstandard," and they are even below the poverty line set as the government's barometer. So workers try to work overtime or on holidays to earn more, that actual working hours reach as far as ten to twenty hours a day, with two days off a month (Thailand.) Occasionally, with the deadline for export near by, workers would work twenty-four hours a day including breaks for meal and a few minutes' rests (Indonesia.)

An Export Processing Zone in Thailand has shown such a striking increase of labor accidents that it even appears in the government statistics. Just recently in this area an accident occurred and killed twenty-one men and women's workers presumably from fatal poisoning of toxic chemical material. Local mass media wrote up the accident calling this area as gDanger Zone." Of those who died, sixteen were workers employed by Japanese companies. A woman worker who contracted a disease by some toxic chemicals and was fired by the Japanese company has sued the company to have her case recognized as labor accident.

Control of local workers by any foreign-affiliated company is very severe. Particularly in companies of such countries as South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, cases of human rights violation are not rare; putting gummed tape on the workers' mouths for having chatted while working, or shaving off the eyebrows of women workers who have fallen asleep. They say that Japanese companies were ga little better," but gseverer in a different sense." Local workers are feeling mental, psychological pressure under Japanese-style control by dividing workers into small groups or by assigning them specific targets. For example, all the workers are forced to cry out the slogan in a chorus before starting work every morning, or if a worker is absent or makes a mistake in work the employer would interrogate him or her before all the other workers in a regular meeting. I saw a case of a local export company that was very active in introducing Japanese-type labor management under the slogan: gAway with the waste, irregular and irrational!"

3. Women's workers in informal sectors

In slum areas in big cities cluster subcontract household industries producing clothing, food and machine parts and others. Especially the clothing manufacturing industry, the biggest profit-maker ranked at the top of all these industries in exports. Its foundation is subcontractors that are so small-scaled that they do not appear in government statistics, with women workers enduring unlimited long working hours and a low wage even beyond the official regulations of the labor law.

Most of the sewing subcontractors are those who used to work in textile factories, acquired skills and then bought sewing machines to become independent. Many of these subcontractors are women. Small-scaled subcontractors usually employ two or three workers, while bigger ones employing seven or eight, and in any case workers live upstairs of the workshop. I saw a case of a married couple working with their baby sleeping at the corner of the workshop. A greater part of these workers is women, most of whom are employers' relatives or hometown people. In contrast to Export Processing Zones, many married women come from rural areas to get jobs, leaving their children at home.

Since workers are live-ins, they usually work from 8:00 in the morning to 12:00 at night.@Wages are on pay by the piece. Taking the case of Thailand, subcontractors would receive the contract on the term of 25 bahts (about US$1.00 as of 1995) for a piece of T-shirt, and pay six to nine bahts to workers. The original contractors would sell the shirt at 100 bahts.

With the government having done nothing about such realities, the increase of subcontract household industries is in turn encouraging big and medium scale companies to contract out their production or to an outsourcing. On Manila outskirts, the Philippines, textile factory workers have gone on strike often against dismissal by companies' streamlining and outsourcing.

4. Migrant workers from ASEAN countries and South Asia

ASEAN and South Asia countries with their high rate of poverty and unemployment, are encouraging works abroad for getting foreign currency. On the other hand, Japan and other countries of East Asia are promoting the introduction of low-waged migrant work force due to a steep rise of salaries at home. Such transfer of work force within Asian Bloc is an up-to-date issue.

@@ The types of jobs in which women workers are engaged abroad are not limited to what they call g3D's" (demanding, dirty and dangerous), such as construction and manufacturing industries. Yet many of them are working in the service industry or in sex entertainment industry as dancers and cabaret hostesses. Also in Japan, there have been cases of forced prostitution or of a Thailand woman raped and murdered.

In Hong Kong and Singapore, due to the advance of carrier women to specialists, there is a great demand for a live-in house worker who takes care of children and housekeeping. Disproportionate economic development among Asian countries has also produced a new structure of women's participation in social activities on the one hand, and women labor under such poor conditions that even no one guarantees their privacy on the other. This structure now poses new problems.


Asia's women workers are now challenging exploitation and oppression by gtriple-domination," that is to say, domination by Japan and other foreign capital, domination by despotic governments promoting economic development on introducing foreign capital, and domination by patriarchy that remains. This is a common struggle for Japanese women, who are facing global strategy adopted by the financial circles and government looking to the 21st century. The recent campaign organized in Japan against the deletion of the protective provisions for women workers in the Labor Standards Law, received messages from Asian countries, which said that the adverse revision of Japan's domestic law would affect Asia's women workers employed by Japanese multinationals. Solidarity with workers in other Asian countries is an indispensable task for today's labor movement.

Industrial gSophistication" in Asia and Japan centering on ME information industry

Minoru Fujita
assistant professor, Obirin University


Asian countries have made amazed economic growth, but subordinate development characterizes it. Its growth depends on importing means of production and intermediate raw materials from Japan, while counting on exporting their products to U.S. markets.

Though it is a subordinate development, mutual purchase within the Asian region is progressing, along with the rapid growth of computer industry in Taiwan and gdevelopment" of ME (microelectronics) information industry as shown by South Korea's integrated manufacturing of semiconductor industry.

This article aims to shed light on the reality of such industrial gsophistication" advancing in Asia focusing on ME information industry and how Japan relates to it.

1. Accumulation of production in ME information industry in Asia

ME information industry in Asia has made a rapid accumulation of production in all fields, that is to say, computer, telecommunication machinery, consumer electronic appliances, and electronic components. For example, gThe Yearbook of World Electronics Data 1995" shows that Asian region accounts for 20.9 percent of the computer products of the world (in production price), 33.0 percent of the consumer electronic appliances and 25.2 percent of the electronic components. Asia's ME information industry now surpasses the United States about consumer electronic appliances and electronic components, and in some areas it even stands closer to gan electronic nation" of Japan. Further, Japan's production has a tendency toward stagnant or decline due to prolonged recession following the collapse of the bubble economy, and transfer of production plants to other Asian countries. On the contrary, production of the Asian region, especially Taiwan and Singapore, has greatly increased.

2. Forming of an international division-of-labor structure in Asia

@@-- Cooperation between Japan, Asia and U.S.

In ME information industry of the Asian region in recent years, interregional purchasing has increased with the gsophistication" of processing and assembling.

Referring to computer parts, they manufacture these components in Malaysia and Thailand, make them into goods in Singapore, and export some of them to the United States. About semiconductors, the ratio of its export within the Asian region is far beyond the ratio of its export to Japan and the United States. An industrial structure has arisen: they purchase the electronic components each other in the region and export them as semiconductors or as computers and consumer electronic appliances into which they put the components to the United States.

In this way, the production system in the Asian region is changing into one. Namely, these regional nations relate themselves to a certain extent in manufacturing and assembling the parts and components.

On the other hand, ME information industry, in the Asian region has serious vulnerability; they have established their manufacturing of semiconductors and computers on the bases depending on importing these production facilities. Because of this, Asia's ME, information industry, requires the complements from Japan and other nations in the region as a necessary condition. This is the ground that they make it inevitable their division of labor among their fabrication processes in Asian regions.

3. Asian Industrial gsophistication" and Japan

A view has appeared. It is that ME information industry's accumulation of production and interregional purchasing are advancing in the Asian region, and this is the formation of an international division of labor centered on manufacturing process; based on comparative advantage, each nation concentrates on a specific process of a particular product, and exports parts and goods to each other. From this point of view, it argues that transfer of production from Japan to other Asian countries is not gthe hollowing out of manufacturing" but a kind of ginteractive habitat segregationh. Here, the gsegregationh means that high value added production belongs to Japan and low value added to other Asian countries.

This kind of argument, however, is based on the idea that gcomparative advantage" means that with their huge number of underpaid workers, Asian countries should take charge of lower part of added value. It is a matter of course that Asian countries as well@introduce this gcomparative advantage" and shift themselves to a position in which they can have higher part of added value, and consequently they cannot stay contented with lower added value for ever. It is only natural therefore that Asian countries will aim for converting their labor-intensive industry into capital and technology-intensive industry.

Further, the Asian region structurally needs a division of labor in manufacturing process. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily means absoluteness of complementary relations, i.e., Asian countries import technology, parts and manufacturing apparatus from Japan, manufacture and assembly them, and export their products to the United States and others. Above all, the industrial gsophistication" in the Asian region and expansion of an interregional purchasing network has reached a stage in which Asian countries can now prospect their integrated production in this region, as is the case of South Korea producing semiconductors, other Asian countries producing components, and Taiwan manufacturing computers.


Industrial gsophistication" in Asia presses for Japan's fundamental reflection on relations between Japanese enterprises and Asia. No one could find Asia's economic structure without Japanese enterprises' presence so far. All the Japanese monopolistic big enterprises could do, was to estimate other Asian nations as nothing but manufacturing bases for computers' hardware and electronic components, using the low-wage laborers. Nevertheless, Asia's ME information industry is now gadvancing" from the stage of simple manufacturing and assembling parts to one that integrated manufacturing of semiconductors, computers and other ME information equipments. Thus it seems that Japanese enterprises' operating bases are becoming narrow because they are just shifting themselves from one place to another in the region estimating nothing but the cost, with little interest in transfer of technology or localization.

Introduction to the Japan Research Institute of Labor Movement

Let us introduce our institute's activity. We, the Japan Research Institute of Labor Movement, stand up for the working class in Japan, support their struggle for changing the Japan society and contribute them with our theoretical activities. Our institute consists of some 300 individual members, most of whom are university teachers and researchers, and sixty-seven groups including the National Confederation of Trade Unions and other trade union organizations.

Aim of Founding Rodo-Soken

On December 11, 1989, the General Meeting of Promoters for the Foundation of the Japan Research Institute of Labor Movement (Rodo-Soken) adopted the prospectus, statutes, and work projects of the institute, by that declared the foundation of the institute. About a month before this, in November, the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) had been set up.

They define the aim of founding our institute in the gProspectuses for thefoundation of the Japan Research Institute of Labor Movement" adopted by the above promoters' general meeting. It says:

gJapan's labor movement is now at a crucial turning point. Due to the contradictions between postwar Japanese capitalism and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty system coming to the fore, the Liberal Democratic Party government, whichhad lasted for many years, has now become more shaky than ever. Under such circumstances a new national center of the trade union movement, the National Confederation of Trade Unions, was set up. At national, industrial and local levels, they have tried for a full-scale build-up of the labor movement, which has just started to make strides forward.h

gThe ruling classes will never sit idly and let the labor movement go advancing. The business circles, LDP government, Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) and other forces will pull themselves together, try every means and mobilize all social forces to counter our movement. We should never make light of their full-scale attack on our movement, organization and ideology.h

@@gHowever, the advancement of Japan's labor movement today is inevitable. Most of the Japanese people have now become aware that LDP politics threat to the very basis of the livelihood and rights of workers and the people. Rengo has taken over all the existing national centers. Under this situation, the National Confederation of Trade Unions, a newborn national center, will be the one and only center for themass labor movement. That can defend workers' and the people's life and rights, in defiance of the politics carried forward by monopoly capital. Further, the key players of the new movement are workers and trade unions, who have achieved solid progress by countering intensive attacks launched by reactionary forces. They are the original current that succeeds the positive tradition of Japan's labor movement.h

gAside it, today's social conditions concerning the labor movement are greatly changing both at home and internationally. Workers and trade unions are facing such structural changes of society as egrowing importance of information,f eeconomy giving more preference to service,f einternationalization,f eagin population.f They confront them while with unprecedented attacks of estreamlining,f carried out by the government in its policy such as eeconomicstructural adjustmentf and eadministrative reform.f The main opponents of the trade union movement are gigantic enterprises that have now become multinationals. Those gigantic enterprises cooperate and maintain cozy relationship with U.S. monopoly capital. They are using their advance abroad and increasing export to force workers both in Japan and in other developed or developing countries, to compete with each other. This makes them thus leveling down their working and living conditions. The labor movement today must march forward, while dealing appropriately with these changes and the tasks for the movement arising from such changes. Nevertheless, the road will hardly be an easy one to follow.h

gIn such a situation as described above, it is an urgent demand today to set up a research institute that can meet the necessity of the labor movement, and can also give theoretical, practical assistance to the progress of the movement. The purpose of our institute is to promote research and policymaking activities that can make positive contribution to the development of the movement, in close communicationand relationship with a new national center, National Confederation of Trade Unions.It also aims to offer opportunities for cooperation and united efforts to democratic researchers and investigation groups working all over the country in different fields relating to the labor movement.h

gThe initiatives of groups and individuals establish this institute as a joint enterprise that pursue these goals.h

Present Activities

Eight years have passed since the foundation of the institute. Here is a brief report on its activities. The Article 8 of the Institute Statutes defines the aim of founding the institute as follows: gWith the aim of serving to meet the demandsposed by the labor movement, to enrich and improve people's living conditions, the Institute will not only carry out theoretical study, but also research, investigation and supply of materials and information for policy planning that will give practical assistance for the advance of the movement." By this aim, the institute has worked so far on such activities as 1) research and study, 2) publication and publicity, 3)collecting and supplying materials, 4) exchange of opinions on research and policy planning, and 5) organizational development of the institute. Of these activities, let us refer to our research and study work, and publication and publicity.

Research and Study

Research and study of our institute is being conducted by two types of working groups, namely, gproject teams" and gstudy sections on specific issues." One project team takes up a specific theme according to the members' opinions and suggestions, and works within the limited two year periods. They will disband the team when the study finishes. gStudy sections on specific issues" have no time limit for their work as a rule, but they require each section to try to publish the results of its study every two years.

In case of setting up a new gproject team" or gstudy section" to meet thedemand arising from the situation, it will be discussed and decided by the institute's standing board of directors.

The following is the project teams and study sections actually at work:

Project teams

On the study on Japanese-style labor-management relations
Study sections
  1. On salary and minimum wages
  2. On working hours
  3. On labor legislation
  4. On youth issue
  5. On women workers
  6. On precarious employment
  7. On medium and small-sized enterprises
  8. On international labor questions
  9. On economic trends
  10. On social security
  11. On industry and labor in Kansai area
More than eighty people including trade unionists, most of whom are the Institute members who are researchers, are being engaged in these researches andstudy activities.

Publication and Publicity

1) The Institute publishes the following three journals:
gRodo-Soken News" monthly in Japanese
gRodo-Soken Quarterly" quarterly in Japanese
gRodo Soken Journal" quarterly in English
gRodo-Soken News" aims to offer the Institute members opportunities to publish articles on timely issues, and to know how the Institute's activity is going on.

gRodo-Soken Quarterly" aims to respond the need of the trade union movement. For this purpose, every quarterly carries on its opening page an essay on such questions as current trends concerning political and economic situation, and theessay will be followed by some articles on moves related to the trade union movement both at home and abroad, a special feature composed of three or four treatises focused on important tasks of the movement, and comments and review ofbooks or documents.

gRodo-Soken Journal" is sent to researchers, universities, national centers of trade union movements and industrial trade unions in other countries, to promotemutual exchange of materials and information with them.

2) To distribute them in society, the result of the study carried out by gproject teams" and gstudy sections on individual issues" have been published in more than ten books in Japanese so far.