National / Crime & Legal

Dentsu execs off the hook after ad giant summarily indicted for overworking employees

Kyodo

Dentsu Inc., Japan’s leading ad agency, has been summarily indicted for suspected labor violations after the suicide of a new recruit focused attention on its culture of overwork and prompted a criminal investigation.

Three senior officials who allegedly made employees work illegally long hours, however, will not be indicted, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office said Friday.

A summary indictment is typically followed by a summary court order requiring the payment of fines, and effectively closes the investigation into Dentsu.

The case has had a major impact on the government’s initiative to improve working conditions at Japanese firms and reduce karoshi (death from overwork).

“It is a matter of fact for Dentsu as a company to be subject to criminal punishment for making my daughter and other employees work illegally long hours,” Yukimi Takahashi, 54, said in a statement released Friday. “I am unconvinced about the fact that her superiors were not indicted, as it is clear that they were giving the orders that violate the Labor Standards Law.”

The karoshi suicide of Takahashi’s daughter, 24-year-old Matsuri, on Christmas Day in 2015, and the subsequent determination by labor standards inspectors that it was a case of karoshi sparked a national dialogue about the rampant and excessive overtime, often unpaid, that many workers endure.

The Dentsu probe prompted the inspectors to refer Dentsu and the three senior officials, including Takahashi’s boss at the time, to prosecutors on suspicion of forcing the victim and another employee to work excessive overtime.

The senior officials were spared indictment, apparently because illegal overtime had been the longtime norm at Dentsu and could not be blamed on any one individual.

On Christmas Day in 2015, Takahashi jumped to her death from her company dorm in Tokyo. In September last year, a labor standards office determined she had worked 105 hours of overtime over a one-month period before showing symptoms of depression.

In January this year, her family and Dentsu reached an agreement under which the company promised to pay off the family to settle the case and promised to take steps to prevent similar tragedies from happening.