7-Eleven strikes back at owner who took day off

Orlando Sentinel - - WALL STREET REPORT - By Hisako Ueno

HIGASHI-OSAKA, Ja­pan — The rice balls are gone. So are the juice bot­tles, which Mi­toshi Mat­sumoto priced to sell early. Most of his store’s shelves stand empty, but he has kept some cig­a­rette car­tons and bot­tles of al­co­hol in the hope that his long-run­ning bat­tle with the 7-Eleven con­ve­nience store chain will end in his fa­vor.

The com­pany that con­trols the 7-Eleven chain, Seven & I Hold­ings Co., ter­mi­nated Mat­sumoto’s fran­chise last week af­ter he de­cided to close his store for a day on New Year’s Day, and it has stopped sup­ply­ing him.

It was the lat­est bat­tle be­tween Mat­sumoto and one of Ja­pan’s most well­known com­pa­nies over harsh work­ing con­di­tions in the Ja­panese con­ve­nience store in­dus­try, which de­mands that stores stay open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for all 365 days a year.

Mat­sumoto re­mains in busi­ness, but just barely. The screen on the ATM flashes “not in op­er­a­tion.” His two full-time em­ploy­ees are ready to jump to new jobs once he fi­nally closes, and his seven part­time em­ploy­ees no longer show up.

Still, he plans to stay open as long as he can.

“I want to stay in busi­ness for the sake of my­self and other own­ers through­out the coun­try,” said Mat­sumoto,

57, who says he plans to con­tinue his fight in a lo­cal court.

A spokesman for Seven & I, Kat­suhiko Shimizu, said the com­pany ter­mi­nated Mat­sumoto’s con­tract on Dec. 31. He de­nied that the ter­mi­na­tion was tied to Mat­sumoto’s plan to close for a day, and in­stead cited nu­mer­ous cus­tomer com­plaints about the store and Mat­sumoto’s dis­parag­ing re­marks about the com­pany on so­cial me­dia.

Mat­sumoto’s fight with 7-Eleven has made him fa­mous in Ja­pan, a coun­try that has long strug­gled with a stren­u­ous and some­times deadly work cul­ture.

Gov­ern­ment fig­ures show over­work was blamed for 246 claims re­lated to hos­pi­tal­iza­tion or death in 2018. The re­tail in­dus­try was one of the big­gest sources, of­fi­cials show. An­other 568 work­ers took their own lives over job-re­lated ex­haus­tion. The phe­nom­e­non is so com­mon that Ja­pan has coined a term for it, “karoshi.”

Over­work has be­come an even big­ger is­sue as the Ja­panese pop­u­la­tion ages and shrinks. Though the coun­try’s eco­nomic growth has been weak for years, the la­bor mar­ket has tight­ened con­sid­er­ably as more work­ers slip into re­tire­ment and fewer young work­ers take their place. While Ja­pan is re­think­ing its tough im­mi­gra­tion laws, the rules still gen­er­ally keep peo­ple from mov­ing to the coun­try to fill in the

can also han­dle more si­mul­ta­ne­ous users than 4G, will mean new ca­pa­bil­i­ties. San­tos agrees with many ex­perts who say real-time med­i­cal treat­ments from re­mote lo­ca­tions will likely be one of the first to emerge.

He also says per­son­al­ized en­ter­tain­ment, where per­haps a pro­tag­o­nist in a tele­vi­sion show can be cus­tom­ized to the gap.Those strains are ev­i­dent in the con­ve­nience store in­dus­try.

Ja­pan’s con­ve­nience store chains have ex­panded dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years in an ef­fort to cap­ture mar­ket share at one an­other’s ex­pense.

While the ex­penses were min­i­mal for the chains, the ex­pan­sion took a toll on the fran­chisees who op­er­ate the vast ma­jor­ity of Ja­pan’s more than 55,000 con­ve­nience stores. Un­able to find de­pend­able work­ers, many own­ers in­creas­ingly worked them­selves.

“Un­der the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, the com­pany can have it both ways,” said Naoki Tsuchiya, a pro­fes­sor at Musashi Univer­sity in Tokyo and an ex­pert on la­bor is­sues in the con­ve­nience store in­dus­try, who called Mat­sumoto “a sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure” in the na­tion­wide dis­cus­sion over the in­dus­try.

De­spite his trou­bles with the com­pany, Mat­sumoto said he hoped a le­gal fight would re­store his fran­chise and al­low him to open up. He said 7-Eleven of­fered to pay for his re­main­ing in­ven­tory — own­ers are re­spon­si­ble for buy­ing their own prod­ucts from the com­pany at whole­sale prices — but he re­fused. He wants Ja­pan’s con­ve­nience store in­dus­try to change.

“If I win the case, I hope more will fol­low and raise their voices,” he said. “If I lose, many will get de­pressed and more afraid of 7-Eleven.” viewer in real time, could be an area of growth.

“You add the things Or­lando has to of­fer — great air­port, pro-busi­ness tax struc­ture — and we think you will have the right in­gre­di­ents to at­tract in­cred­i­ble tal­ent,” San­tos said.

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