Established by a 10 member team including journalists, activists and University professors, the committee for the “Most Evil Corporation of the Year” (in Japanese “Black Corporation Award”) has made a shortlist of nominees each vying to be the blackest of businesses.

In Japanese, the term “black business” refers to companies who rake in huge profits while exploiting their own work force by discrimination, harassment, unpaid overtime, and short-term contracts.  This type of business is a widespread problem in Japanese society but often goes on undiscussed in mainstream media.

The creators of the “Most Evil Corporation of the Year” award are hoping to shed light on the topic as well as expose some of the largest abusers of employees.  Although the voting is open worldwide, this year’s nominees are limited to Japanese companies.  Judging by the English information available on the website they may hope to expand in the future.

Without further ado, the nominees for the 2012 Most Evil Corporation of the Year are:

Watami Co., Ltd.
Proprietor of multiple chains of restaurants

WeatherNews Inc.
World’s Largest Weather Forecasting Company

Sukiya (Zensho Holdings Co., Ltd.)
Restaurant Chain

Shop99 (also Lawson Store 100 and 99 Plus Co., Ltd.)
100 yen stores (Japan’s equivalent of dollar stores)

Skylark Co., Ltd.
Restaurant Chain

Focus Systems Co., Ltd.
IT software company

Rikuentai and Harvest Holdings Co., Ltd.
Long trip bus companies

Maruhachi Mawata Co., Ltd.
Bed and Futon Retailer

Fujitsu Limited Social Science Laboratory
Business Consulting

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)
Electric company

Votes are being gathered online with a few clicks of the mouse until 28 July.  And since the voting is all online we can watch the results as they come in.

For most foreign readers, the only name that probably jumps out is Tokyo Electric and their involvement with the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster.  However, in spite of their infamy TEPCO is sitting in a distant second place with a mere 26% of the vote (as of 12 July).  It seems the degree of the company’s responsibility is somewhat in the air in the minds of voters considering the massive natural disaster that occurred.

So who could possibly be worse than a company that irradiated a large portion of the country?  The current number one contender for the Most Evil Corporation of 2012 is Watami with a whopping 58% of the vote (as of 12 July).

Watami Co., Ltd. is a chain of restaurants but also owns other chains as well, the most popular being the TGI Friday’s franchises in Japan. The company was founded by Miki Watanabe who was profiled on Forbes website as one of the 48 Asian Altruists in 2008, for his work building schools and orphanages in countries like Nepal and Cambodia.  He also is an outspoken supporter of young people following their dreams writing several motivational articles.

So it seems that Mr. Watanabe has a lot of love to give to the world – unless you work for him.  In the same year as the Forbes honor, Mina Mori, a 26 year-old employee of one of his Watami restaurants committed suicide only two months into her employment. It was discovered that she had worked 140 hours of overtime in one month before her death. The incident was just recently officially declared a case of karoshi (death by overwork).

That’s just the tip of the alleged dark goings-on in Watami Co., Ltd. with other sordid tales often relegated to Japanese blogs which, if true, make Mr. Watanabe the closest thing to a real-life Lex Luthor ever.  As such, the internet is striking back by making Watami a shoe-in for the Most Evil Corporation of the Year.

Most Evil Corporation of the Year: Website (Japanese – Some English) Real Time Results (Japanese)

[ Read in Japanese ]