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An agricultural cooperative in Nagano Prefecture has been accused of subjecting Chinese laborers hired under a state-backed internship program to “brutal” treatment and hosting them in “horrible” living conditions.

In a report released last month, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said Chinese interns working for farmers in the village of Kawakami, a major lettuce-growing district, were maltreated to the point of inhumanity. The foreigners were kept in conditions “below minimal living standards,” JFBA said.

Reporters were unable to confirm if the cooperative still employs the foreign laborers — or even if it still exists.

In September, the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau reportedly penalized the agricultural organization with a five-year ban on recruiting such interns.

Asked for details, bureau spokesman Teruki Toma said the agency had taken the “necessary steps” to correct legal malpractice by the agricultural body.

In an annual report on human trafficking published in June, the U.S. State Department singled out the abusive practices in Kawakami, citing the routine “confiscation of passports” and the “imposition of exorbitant fines.”

Faced with such criticism, the village’s agricultural body reportedly decided to disband during a meeting last month. Phone calls seeking comment from the organization went unanswered.

The JFBA’s move comes at a time when the Justice Ministry is mulling a root-and-branch overhaul of the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program by the end of fiscal 2015, in response to repeated allegations that the program amounts to forced labor. The JFBA report follows 20 months of information-gathering aimed at cutting through the hearsay and determining what actually happened. Researchers worked on the case from November 2012 to July 2014.

They found that the foreign trainees were routinely forced into working overtime, and were worked 15 hours a day without a break during the busiest months of July and August.

Employers routinely failed to train the laborers, and in the case of those assigned to operate mowing machines, this led to at least four hand injuries, the report said.

Furthermore, the employers provided unacceptable living quarters, with broken windows and non-functioning lavatories — little more than tenements, the report said.

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