Japan's spirit of omotenashi (ie, hospitality) encompasses many aspects of Japanese culture and etiquette, including the practice of gift giving. Many Japanese companies invest heavily in nurturing long-term business partners and, as such, the practice of giving gifts to business partners is relatively common. However, a number of risks may arise in this regard under international anti-corruption legislation, particularly the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
In recent years, the government-established Council for the Realisation of Work Style Reform has frequently discussed how to realise the international trend of equal pay for equal work in Japan. Further, the Japanese courts have rendered some noteworthy judgments regarding the equal pay for equal work principle. As such, the government is in the process of amending the rules on equal pay for equal work, which will significantly affect Japanese employment practice.
Financial institutions that have no operations in Japan can readily acquire loans made to Japanese borrowers by purchasing the receivables relating to such loans. A number of requirements and considerations must be taken into account when transferring loan receivables, including with regard to novation, money lending operations, registered money lenders, perfection and the upcoming amendments to the Civil Code.
The Council for the Realisation of Work Style Reform recently approved its action plan. To implement the plan, which the government has since adopted, certain legal amendments must be enacted. A number of related bills are expected to be tabled before the National Diet in 2017 and will likely garner significant attention.
In recent years, excessively long overtime hours have been an issue in Japan. In accordance with the Labour Standards Act, the maximum working hours are eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, and company directors who violate this article are subject to imprisonment with labour or a fine. While an employer can extend its employees working hours in certain circumstances under a so-called '36 agreement', the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has set out the upper limits for such overtime work.
Various initiatives in recent years have set in motion a number of reforms to the Japanese criminal justice system. Of most interest to businesses operating in Japan is undoubtedly the introduction of Japan's first plea bargaining system, which will likely incentivise both Japanese and global companies in Japan to take meaningful steps to bolster corporate compliance in order to avoid the sometimes devastating consequences of serious corporate malfeasance.
In early 2016 the Japan Exchange Regulation released its Principles for Listed Companies Dealing with Corporate Malfeasance. The principles appear to be the first example of a national stock exchange setting out specific guidelines on how a corporation should behave when faced with a corporate scandal and, as such, are an example of Japan leading the way in this increasingly important area of corporate governance.
Attorney-client privilege is a well-established principle in many jurisdictions. The effective absence of this form of protection in Japan is notable for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that it means that Japanese regulators are permitted to compel the production of or seize sensitive communications, materials and advice received from legal counsel. This is of particular concern in the context of regulatory investigations.
The Olympus accounting scandal and Toshiba's recent accounting irregularities have highlighted issues over corporate governance in Japan, including whether the country's whistleblower law regime could do more to uncover corporate malfeasance. To address these concerns, Japan has amended its Companies Act and introduced the Corporate Governance Code to bolster the integrity of the whistleblower law regime.