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Worker-Led Solutions for Anime and Manga Industry Labor Exploitation

SNA (Arizona) — Labor exploitation has reached epidemic proportions within both the anime and manga industries, and it may require bold—indeed radical—measures to truly address the roots of the problem.

Anime and manga industry workers are clearly at risk of death from overwork, as seen in the case of veteran animator Kazunori Mizuno. Others have been subjected to blatant labor violations, such as withholding overtime pay.

It is an open secret that these two industries are a mess. Even as the earnings generated from the anime industry are increasing (the Association of Japanese Animations estimates collective earnings at 2 trillion yen, or US$18 billion, in 2017), the availability of jobs and healthy work environments for foreigners and native Japanese citizens alike continues to decrease.

Animators on average log 50-84 hours of work every week, and are mostly paid below the poverty line in Japan.

According to reports published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is currently a significant increase in wages for part-time workers across the board in all sectors of the Japanese economy, but in the anime industry the only observable gains are for part-time work. However, independent contracting and full-time positions are what are necessary to keep up with the current pace of production needs.

The following three measures might be what is truly needed to resolve these labor problems in the anime and manga industries.

First, encourage workers to join a union like the International Arts and Entertainment Alliance, or form an entirely new union. Collective bargaining for better wages is hardly foreign to Japanese history, and there are existing institutions that might help out.

Second, promote worker ownership in a manner that would have the laborers themselves democratically decide production, management, and wages within the industry. This model has seen success in worker co-operatives such as Mondragon (Spain), Cooperative Home Care Associates (United States), Kantega (Norway), and indeed all the co-ops represented by the Japan Workers’ Co-operative Union (JWCU).

Third, continue to create awareness in Japanese politics by supporting and electing pro-labor candidates in multiple political parties, thus strengthening the overall support network for labor-led solutions to economic and social problems.

If we are to seriously address poverty wages, labor violations, outsourced labor, automation, labor shortages, inequitable contracts, and maintain a sustainable means of conducting business and trade, then bold, radical solutions must be implemented by workers with the support of consumers and communities in Japan.

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