One coinage that has been steadily building in popularity in the economically mired nation of Japan is “black business” (burakku kigyou). A black business is described as a company that overworks its employees, harasses them, and/or pays significantly low wages for the work provided.

The term, which can be traced back to the 2011 book by Haruki Konno, Black Business: The Monster Devouring Japan, is frequently used on blogs and social networks. Infamous message board 2channel even has a thread which ranks the blackest of companies in Japan.

But with all the bandying about of this phrase, one has to wonder what the legal dangers are of it. Black or not, these companies will do what it takes to protect their brand and to anyone who slaps the black business label on them, will slap back with a lawsuit.

For more details on the Japanese law regarding defamation and black businesses, Yahoo! News got in touch with lawyer and secretary-general of Osaka Karoshi (death from overwork) Liason Group, Yutaka Iwaki.

First Mr. Iwaki explains the legality of claiming a company is engaging in “black business.”

“The phrase ‘black business’ is used to mean ‘a company you should not work for’ which entails such businesses that:
1) operates without regard for labor laws
2) imposes unreasonable quotas, working hours, or holiday work
3) demonstrates power harassment or violence regularly and
4) large companies coercing staff into early retirement deals.

‘Defamation’ is defined by Paragraph 1 of Article 230 of the Penal Code as ‘defaming another by alleging facts in public.’ It is debatable whether or not saying a company is ‘black business’ is alleging a fact.

There is also an ‘insult’ which is defined by Article 231 of the Penal Code as ‘insulting a party without alleging facts.’ In this case ‘insult’ has a very broad sense which can be a problem.

Based on Mr. Iwaki’s explanation, we might assume that calling out corporations for black business carries a fair bit of risk by Japanese law.  This would give companies who truly practice illegal or unethical business an unfair advantage at being held accountable.

However, that’s not quite the entire case explains Mr. Iwaki.

“When making allegations such as ‘this company has too much unpaid overtime’, ‘the president harasses his staff daily’, or ‘they’re scamming customers’ along with calling a business black, one is clearly in danger of a defamation suit.

However, in this regard, according to Section 2 of Paragraph 1 of Article 230, even if defamation is made there can be no legal action if:
1) the alleged fact is a matter of public interest
2) the aim of the allegation is solely in the public interest or
3) the fact is true.

So, as long as the criticism is true, made with good intentions and of no benefit to the person making the claim, defamation can be allowed.  In this way one can completely safely allege a company is doing black business.

One example of this was the Black Corporation Award 2012 which honored the allegedly worst of businesses in Japan.  It seems they were not the subject of lawsuits because the examples they used for their nominees were based off the rulings and determinations of courts and the Labor Standards Supervision Office.

The bottom line is that while it may be okay to call-out a company for black business by itself, one should be careful how they frame their accusations to be completely safe.

Who knew a buzz word could be so dangerous?

Source: Yahoo! News, Yutaka Iwaki, Osaka Karoshi (Japanese)