The Tokyo Summary Court has fined Dentsu ¥500,000 (£3,400) for violating the labour standards law in the final ruling of an open trial into the company’s role in the suicide of an employee in 2015.
While the financial penalty is small, the ruling acknowledges that Dentsu's unregulated working conditions contributed to the death of Matsuri Takahashi. The recent graduate killed herself on 25 December 2015 after experiencing workplace bullying and being forced to work unreasonably long hours between October and December.
According to the Nikkei, prosecutors accused the Japanese parent company of Carat and Mcgarrybowen of putting profits above staff wellbeing and failing to curb a prevalent culture of extreme overwork.
The open trial that Dentsu has faced is an uncommon scenario for an incident of this nature, which by all accounts happens relatively frequently across different industries in Japan. Observers including those in the national press have indicated that the case was given extra weight due to Dentsu’s prominence in Japanese business and society.
Dentsu’s president and chief executiv Toshihiro Yamamoto admitted in September that Dentsu had failed to meet its social responsibilities and apologised on behalf of the company to all concerned. Yamamoto was appointed to lead Dentsu in January after his predecessor, Tadashi Ishii, resigned in an apparent atonement for the scandal.
Yamamoto has promised to ensure no such incident happens again. Spokespeople for Dentsu have said the company is working hard to enhance its working environment, with a focus on eliminating the culture of long working hours and obligatory overtime. The company has not yet provided specific details or results of its new measures.
Death from overwork is a serious national problem for Japan that the government is at pains to tackle. The topic has remained in the spotlight since Dentsu’s role in the suicide first came to light last October.
As Campaign’s extensive reporting on the issue has shown, Dentsu is far from the only media industry organisation that needs to rethink its working practices. On 3 October NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, became the latest large media institution to admit that overwork led to the death of an employee.
A version of this article was first published by Campaign Asia-Pacific