Alexandra Harney is Special Correspondent for Reuters in China, based in Shanghai. A Mandarin and Japanese speaker, she was previously a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, based in Tokyo. She is author of The ChinaPrice: The True Price of Chinese Competitive Advantage (2008), an exploration of the human cost of China’s success as a manufacturer, which was translated into six languages and named a best book of the year on globalization by Library Journal. Her recently-published special report for Reuters, Foreign Interns Pay the Price for Japan’s Labor Shortage, is the basis of tonight’s talk. A former reporter and editor for the Financial Times in China, Japan and the UK, Harney has also contributed to the New York Times, Atlantic, and Wall Street Journal.
Every year, about 50,000 workers, most of them Chinese, arrive in Japan to work as “interns” through a shadowy Japanese government program. Many are considered bonded labor, having paid a large sum, or put up their family home as a guarantee, for the chance to work in Japan. In the factories and farms where these interns work, labor abuse is endemic. Critics say that theseworkers have become a source of exploited labor in a country with a deepening labor shortage and where discussion of immigration is taboo.