A Mechanism to Free the “Modern Slaves”

The SDGs are all the rage in Japan. Looking at the websites of major corporations, their contributions to the SDGs are appealing, and NHK has produced a song about the SDGs, which children are singing at school.

The days when companies aimed for growth without a second thought are over, and they are now expected to behave in a more ethical manner. This sense may be spreading not only to those who were originally interested in it but also to the general public.

In these times, corporations are also becoming more strict about the environment they impose on their workers. Forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a prime example, and there are people who work in such poor conditions that it could be called “ Modern Slavery”. Of course, any companies that are involved in such poor labor problems will be bashed, but supply chains across countries are complex, and it is difficult to detect problems, not only for consumers at the end of the chain but also for the major organizations that control the chains.

Australia is taking a progressive approach to this situation.


The following is a quote from a Bloomberg article.

Under laws that came into force in 2019, companies and investors generating more than A$100 million ($71 million) in revenue must detail how they’re managing the risk of slavery in their supply chains, and are required to upload their reports into a publicly accessible database. Firms must also outline the steps they’ve taken to fix any issues, a requirement that goes beyond laws in the U.K. or France, and is being studied by nations including the U.S. as a potential template for action.

The policy has been successful in uncovering potential labor problems in big corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, and Unilever, and in eliciting concrete measures from them.

This policy will have no small effect on corporate labor environment problems. Yet, as the article pointed out, it is difficult to track the details of the supply chain, and there are no penalties for non-compliance with the policy. Surveys take an enormous amount of effort but offer little benefit to the firms doing them. In fact, it may even wake up a sleeping dog. Dependence on “self-reporting” is not enough of an incentive.

As a problem of the working environment in Japan, reports have come to light that foreign technical interns are working in poor conditions at some companies. At a construction company in Okayama City, a Vietnamese technical intern was assaulted for two years, a fact that made the news.

The victimized man initially consulted with a management group acting as an intermediary, without effect, and finally took refuge in the shelter of a labor union that supports interns.

Foreign technical intern trainees inevitably have a weakened position at their place of work. It is difficult for them to blow the whistle, and we are concerned that such cases like this one are becoming the norm at various companies in Japan.

Sonny Wang of Links Inc. expressed his indignation and proposed that if there are people who would like to sue and fight this case, he would like to support them by covering the legal fees.

He appeals, “ Nothing will change if we expect a supervisory body or NPO to do anything.” Society may turn out to be different if more people with a heart for justice like his appearance. It is also possible that some people inside the troubled corporations or companies at the top of their supply chain will also pursue injustice based on their own beliefs.

However, a campaign that only relies on the enthusiasm and goodwill of people is not sustainable. Even if the movement succeeds, in many cases it will only be able to elicit unenforceable recommendations, leaving a sense of futility.

In order to resolve this issue, we need to create a system that encourages whistle-blowing from the frontlines of labor problems, rather than just relying on the benevolence of people on the outside. Effective mechanisms need to provide incentives for the parties concerned to report injustice, security for the reporter, and a condition that the result of the action does not end up being a mere recommendation.

Currently, no effective mechanism exists (or seems to exist), but we think the idea of “ Pain Token,” which we once presented, may be effective.

For more details, please refer to this article.

The Pain Token is an idea that uses blockchain technology to represent the “pain” of an organization. Every member of the organization is issued a certain amount of “ Pain Tokens”, which they can anonymously “exercise” when they feel pain. The organization would be obligated to attach to its product the total amount of pain tokens issued in the course of production (or it could publish them without permission). Since the distress tokens are recorded on a (public) blockchain, they cannot be tampered with for the convenience of the company, and the amount of pain tokens becomes an indicator of the demand for better working conditions for that organization. Alternatively, a more radical version could be considered, in which the chain of command in the organization automatically changes according to the amount of pain tokens exercised. In this case, it would be beneficial for both the organization and the employees, since the discovery of a problem would lead to structural reform.

In short, it is a system that tries to have an effect by presenting objective figures from the frontline to show that “I don’t like what I don’t like.”

The pain token is still in the idea stage, and specific operational methods and issues will need to be discussed. Nevertheless, with the development of blockchain technology, can we find hope in the possibility of systematically removing pain from organizations, without relying solely on the courage and good intentions of a few people, and without requiring a great deal of courage from individuals?



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