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Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

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  • Former J employees sue Prada for sexual and power harassment, TV claims “racial discrimination”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 19th, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  In an interesting twist to the whole “racial discrimination” issue in Japan, we have Japanese managers suing their former employer, world-famous luxury brand maker Prada, for alleged workplace sexual and power harassment, and “lookism” (i.e. treating people adversely based upon their “looks”).  Some excerpts from the Japan Times:


    The Japan Times Saturday, March 20, 2010
    Fired Prada manager files suit (excerpt)
    By MINORU MATSUTANI Staff writer
    Former Prada Japan manager Rina Bovrisse filed suit Friday with the Tokyo District Court, seeking compensation for emotional distress from alleged harassment, she and her lawyers said….


    The Japan Times Saturday, April 17, 2010
    Ex-Prada exec claims harassment (excerpt)
    By MINORU MATSUTANI Staff writer
    Former Prada Japan senior retail manager Rina Bovrisse, who is suing the company over emotional distress from alleged harassment, said Friday she took the action to support mistreated working women in Japan who don’t feel they have the power to fight their employers.

    “I filed the lawsuit against Prada Japan for creating a working environment cruel and unsafe for women,” Bovrisse said at a news conference at the Tokyo District Court. “Prada Japan’s personnel practice is abusive to women.”

    The civil trial, in which Bovrisse will argue that the Italian fashion company discriminated against her and other female workers for what the company president called poor appearance, will get under way May 14. She is demanding an apology, compensation and cancellation of her dismissal from the company….


    The Japan Times Saturday, May 15, 2010
    Two former managers to file harassment suits against Prada (excerpt)

    By MINORU MATSUTANI Staff writer

    Two former shop managers of Prada Japan will file harassment lawsuits against the company, a move inspired by a former senior retail manager who sued the company for another harassment case, her lawyer said Friday.

    Yoshiki Kojima, the lawyer for former senior retail manager Rina Bovrisse, revealed the move when her suit commenced before the Tokyo District Court. Bovrisse is demanding the company apologize, pay compensation for emotional distress and come up with measures to prevent harassment. […]

    Bovrisse alleges Prada Japan’s CEO asked her to get rid of shop managers and assistant managers who he described as unattractive last May. After she refused to do so, Prada Japan’s human resources manager gave most of those managers, including the two planning to file suit, transfer orders that amounted to demotions in May and June last year, according to Bovrisse and a shop manager and two assistant shop managers who received the orders.


    FNN News May 14, 2010
    (05/14 18:53)


    COMMENT:  Good, in the sense that people who are treated badly by employers don’t just take it on the chin as usual.  But what makes this a issue is the allegation, made by at least one morning Wide Show (“Sukkiri” last Monday, May 17), is that the companies are practicing “racial discrimination” (jinshu sabetsu).

    Funny thing, that.  If this were a Japanese company being sued for harassment (some examples here), there would be no claim of racial discrimination (as race would not be a factor).  But this time it’s not a Japanese company — it’s Prada.  Yet when NJ or naturalized Japanese sue for racial discrimination (as they did in the Otaru Onsen Case), the media would NEVER call it “racial discrimination”, merely “cultural misunderstandings” and the like.

    Another example of the Japanese media saying racism is only something done TO Japanese, never BY Japanese?

    Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    12 Responses to “Former J employees sue Prada for sexual and power harassment, TV claims “racial discrimination””

    1. TJJ Says:

      Debito – It is a Japanese company. I’m sure if you look up the company registration details you will find that it is a Kabushiki Kaisha.
      That means it is a Japanese company.

      That the original branch is an Italian company doesn’t really make any difference. Calling it an Italian company is the same argument as saying ‘you are not Japanese because your parents are not Japanese’.

      Was this company run by Japanese people? Were her bosses Japanese? This things are not mentioned in the article but I’m willing to go out on a limb and guess they were.

      OK, after doing some searching, I found that the CEO of Japan Prada is not Japanese (Davide Sesia). So I take back the last sentence..

      — But if there’s no foreign element to the case, why was the “racial discrimination” issue raised, I wonder.

    2. jjobseeker Says:

      Sukkiri’s stance is not surprising since that’s on NTV, a Yomiyuri supported station, which pretty much tows the LDP line (i.e. “whoa is us” when its Japanese as victims and “we’re completely innocent” when it’s a NJ as the victim). In fact, you’ll find that the case on most of NTV’s Wide Shows.

    3. Jair Says:

      A horrible case of power harassment, yes, but no evidence of racial discrimination as of now. It really is an irresponsible comment from the show.

      Fortunately they’re NOT saying the same thing on the net (a search for”プラダ 人種差別  ボヴリース” returned no results).

    4. TJJ Says:

      – But if there’s no foreign element to the case, why was the “racial discrimination” issue raised, I wonder.

      The plaintiff, Rina Bovrisse, is hafu (I’m guessing). Maybe her hair wasn’t black enough.

    5. jack Says:

      Let’s hope this is the first of a trend. I’d love to see racial discrimination talked about more. Maybe they don’t connect it to J-on-NJ yet, but we have more chance to raise our points if they’re at least interested in the issue one way or another.

      Side note: Debito, I don’t think your hunch is entirely wrong (even if Prada Japan is run by 100% native Japanese with ancestries traceable to the Kojiki, as a brand it’s not a native-Japanese phenomenon), but your logic here is somewhat circular; “Racial discrimination is being raised as an issue only because there is a foreign element involved. How do I know a foreign element is involved? Because otherwise they wouldn’t raise racial discrimination as an issue.”

      Last, TJJ, you’re right that calling Prada Japan an Italian company is the same argument as saying ‘you are not Japanese because your parents are not Japanese’. One of the biggest racial problems here is that people think exactly that way (for example, the latest Ishihara blood-purity fiasco).

    6. K18 Says:

      > OK, after doing some searching, I found that the CEO of Japan Prada is not Japanese (Davide Sesia).

      Maybe, but how did you determine that?
      I could not find information about Davide Sesia’s nationality.
      Like Debito or my name, Davide Sesia is not a very typical Japanese name, but it is just that: a name.

    7. Norik Says:

      Another speculation by these rasists on the Japanese TV.
      I remember once reading about this issue, long time ago. Fortunately, I found the link, here it is:

      As you can see, it is the Japanese staff of the foreign company that has been sued.It’s the Japanese who mistreated this woman.
      [tangent deleted]

    8. Allen Says:

      So, its only OK to mention racial discrimination if a “foreign” company(Regardless of all japanese staff, it is still seen as a “foreigner company”?) is the one making the discrimination? “We can’t be racist, we are Japanese, but those foreigners….THEY are the racist ones here…”

      It doesn’t make that much sense.

    9. Jerry Says:

      This sounds more like the slippery slope of looksism and does a company have the right to hire people who present a specific “look”. For instance, sexism=bad but is it really sexism if a restaurant like hooters hires only attractive women with a certain feature exaggerated or is that their business model? Does a company have a right to say fire a salesman who goes out and gets a large facial tattoo? Does a clothing company have the right to only employee models who are size 0? Or does a luxury goods company have a right to say it only wants women who are at a certain arbitrary level of attractiveness?

      My general feeling is that if the women were hired then unless something about their appearance changed they shouldn’t have been dismissed (never mind that there is a wealth of research that suggests that women would rather buy something from a less attractive salesperson). But Risa’s argument seems to be that she was mistreated because she refused to fire these women not that she was discriminated against…

      — Agreed. Let’s see how this all comes out in the wash of a courtroom. But remember this blog entry’s point is how some media spun it into a case of racial discrimination, which as I have written before is a taboo topic if Japanese people domestically are doing it to NJ. Let’s somehow connect with that.

    10. Valentina Says:

      I often read this blog, but I never commented before as I have never been to Japan and so I prefer not to comment on issues such as the ones discussed here, but this time I think I can be useful: the CEO’s name, Davide Sesia, is undoubtedly Italian. I know because I’m Italian, too (also, the last name Sesia is typical of the area where I’m from, in Piedmont, North-Western Italy). I did a quick search and found a Japan Times article which says:
      “A native of Italy, Sesia studied Japanese prior to receiving a master’s in business administration from an Italian university in 1991. A few months later, he was in Japan, working in retail before becoming chief financial officer at Benetton Japan in 1998.” Here is the full article:
      As the CEO is a native Italian and probably an Italian citizen too (as far as I know, Italians who live abroad are usually not very keen on giving up their citizenship) I think that it could be considered a case of racial discrimination, though actually I’m not sure of it…I feel this is more of a case of “lookism”, which is no better than racism, in my opinion.
      Just my two cents.

    11. sorge Says:

      Reading around the websites, this seems to me to be more to do with gross corporate sexism than racial discrimination, so the TV show is just stirring. Incidentally, she has inspired a facebook campaign now

      I hope she gives the management hell!

    12. let`s talk Says:

      TJJ, Rina is not “hafu”. She is a Japanese national. Bovrisse is her French husband’s last name.

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