The highest ranking Japanese person on Forbes’ most recent Billionaires List is Tadashi Yanai, the president of Fast Retailing Co., which operates the huge discount clothing chain Uniqlo. Yanai placed 66th on the list with $13.3 billion. His inclusion in the world’s most prestigious business magazine’s prestigious list is appropriate in that Fast Retailing has promoted an image of being more internationally oriented than other major Japanese companies, with its insistence that management be fluent or at least conversant in English and employment policies that have resulted in one of the highest percentages of female management of any company in Japan. When recruiting new talent, Fast Retailing pushes its global outlook and hints that ambitious new employees could see themselves transferred to Paris after only 18 months on the job. Consequently, the company has became a top draw for university graduates, who see it as a forward-looking company that rejects the insularity Japanese firms are known for.
Coincidentally, the weekly economics magazine Toyo Keizai recently ran a cover feature critical of Fast Retailing titled “Hihei suru shokuba” (“The worn-out workplace”). The article describes the company as a different sort of employer than its image would have you believe, dwelling on labor practices that follow all the worst stereotypes of Japanese corporations. Apparently, this isn’t news. Fast Retailing is suing Bungei Shunju for publishing an unflattering book about the “Uniqlo Empire,” asking for ¥200 million in damages and halting sales of all remaining copies. Toyo Keizai seems to have gotten Uniqlo’s cooperation up to a point. In addition to talking to a number of former and current employees (anonymously, of course), they interviewed executives who gave them some startling statistics, such as the turnover rate. In 2007, 37.9 percent of all new regular employees quit the company within three years. This portion rose to 53 percent by 2009. Moreover, 43 percent of employees who take sick leave cite mental stress as the reason. It’s common for new grads to become disillusioned with company life, but that’s pretty high for a company with Uniqlo’s appeal.
The problem is the workload. Company policy prohibits (more…)