Labour rights violations found in Uniqlo supply chain
Clothing retailer Uniqlo has been accused of a number of labour rights violations in its Chinese supplier factories.
A coalition of labour rights groups, including Labour Action China (LAC) and SACOM, investigated two textile factories: Pacific Textiles Ltd and Dongguan Luen Thai Garment Co. Ltd.
A number of workers' rights issues were uncovered within both factories. Issues included long working hours, low pay, a lack occupational health and safety protection for workers at both factories.
The report concluded that "workers' lives are deeply affected by all kinds of exploitation and threats in their working environments."
Key findings from the report included:
Long working hours and low basic wages
Workers were made to work long hours. For instance, a worker told researchers that he worked 13-14 hours a day so he could iron 600-700 shirts. (The piece rate of each shirt was only 0.29 RMB). In peak season, he ironed 900 'pieces' of shirt daily and sometimes worked on Sundays.
The numbers of hours worked overtime at Pacific and Luen Thai were 134 hours and 112 hours respectively. Labour Law Article 41 stipulates that extended work time should not exceed 36 hours a month. Worse still, the overtime pay on the weekend was miscalculated at Pacific - only 150% of the basic wage was paid instead of 200%. At Luen Thai, the overtime work record on Sunday and overtime work in excess of 100 hours were recorded manually on paper instead of on the computer system - raising suspicion among researchers and the workers that factories might thus be avoiding getting checked by the social auditors.
High risk and unsafe working environment
The report stated that factories had neglected work safety, putting workers at risk. Extremely high shop floor temperatures, dirty sewage flowing over floors, unsafe facilities, poor ventilation with dense cotton dust filling the air, irritating smells and high risk of electricity leakage were posing serious risks to workers’ health and safety. Because of the high shop floor temperatures, topless workers put heavy pigments into hot dyeing tents without wearing any protective gear. Researchers also saw a number of workers falling down from chairs whilst handling the knitting machines.
Harsh management style and punishment system
Fines were used as a way to control product quality and to manage workers. At Pacific, 41 types of punishment included fines. In practice, different shop-floors had their own punishments and rules which were not specifically stipulated in the regulations but were simply written on the whiteboard on the shop floor. For example, if products were found to have dirt or flaws on them, the daily workers’ production bonus would be deducted from them (this amounted to roughly RMB 50-100). Luen Thai also used fines as punishment.
General workers from the two factories under investigation had no effective platform to express their concerns. At Pacific, the chairperson of the union was the director of the administrative department. In the case of Luen Thai, there was no trade union, while the existing workers’ committee group and employee relations department in the factory were ineffective in facilitating workers to express their concerns.
Uniqlo's parent company, Fast Retailing, stated "The Fast Retailing Group is committed to building long-term trust with its production partners, while at the same time respecting human rights and ensuring appropriate working conditions for the employees of its production partners. We monitor working conditions at garment suppliers periodically based on our Code of Conduct for Production Partners, which we established in fiscal year 2004."
They added, "while [our] inspection did not reveal some of the problems stated in the SACOM report, Fast Retailing and SACOM have different views on some of the issues described in the report."
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