On June 27, 1996 -- while shareholders of various companies were holding general meetings throughout the nation -- the JCLU held a lecture featuring Ms. Rosemary Dempsey, Vice President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), based in Washington, D.C. The meeting, entitled "Japanese Firms in the U.S. and the Rights of Female Workers," was held at the Tokyo Women's Plaza in Aoyama, Tokyo.
Since April 9, 1996, when the U.S. Federal Equal Employment Commission brought a class-action suit against U.S. Mitsubishi Motors on account of sexual harassment, NOW has been pursuing a campaign criticizing Mitsubishi. Ms. Dempsey scheduled her visit to Japan to coincide with the general meeting of Mitsubishi Motors shareholders.
As Ms. Dempsey's visit was arranged on rather short notice, the JCLU had relatively little time to publicize the coming lecture. Despite the short notice, however, about 70 people were in attendance, demonstrating the high level of public concern over the issue. Strikingly, not only were there women present but many men in corporate positions, who actively participated in the discussion. The meeting was covered by several media organizations, which recorded the lecture and interviewed the audience.
Ms. Dempsey began by describing how NOW had been addressing the issue of sexual harassment at Mitsubishi. She mentioned that Mitsubishi was extremely defensive at first. It was only later, she said, that company representatives began to acknowledge the significance of the accusations, and she recognized that working conditions for women at Mitsubishi had not been static, but had actually been improving gradually. During her visit to Japan, Ms. Dempsey was able to meet with the Tokyo representatives of Mitsubishi. She noted the rapid increase in concern regarding the problem of sexual harassment at the company and called attention to the great success of the picket outside the Mitsubishi shareholders' general meeting in raising awareness.
Ms. Dempsey emphasized the realities of the sexual harassment and sexual discrimination that had taken place at Mitsubishi and rejected the notion that the accusations of harassment were just another example of American "Japan bashing." The problem could not be properly addressed, she said, if viewed as something caused by a negative climate between two countries.
When asked if the problem could have been caused not by sexism but by cultural differences between Japan and the U.S., Ms. Dempsey admitted to the existence of "difference" in general and went on to elaborate on specific differences between the two countries. In particular, she stressed differences in the legal frameworks of the U.S. and Japan. She maintained that while U.S. corporations have had to follow the country's stringent laws and regulations, Japanese corporations have existed in a system that lacks legal safeguards and an appropriate settlement system. While the U.S. system has contributed to corporate sensitivity to sexual harassment, the Japanese system has, she said, greatly hindered the appropriate disposition of harassment cases like this one.
Ms. Dempsey concluded her lecture by mentioning that her visit to Japan was a success insofar as she was able to meet with various Japanese women's groups and human rights groups, thus expanding the international network for women's human rights.
n Shimbun, July 25, 1996, No. 301]