Chanel is coming under fire in Korea on the heels of a temporary strike this week amongst employees, who joined to protest long hours in exchange for low wages. The Paris-based brand’s female employees also complained about their “skimpy uniforms,” according to the Korean Federation of Service Workers' Unions. The Korea Times notes that “it is unusual for Korean employees of the luxury brands to stage a walkout,” but that did not stop more than 1,000 individuals, employed by Chanel and others by the Korean unit of Estee Lauder, from ceasing work at 50 department stores across South Korea on Sunday evening.
As much as 95 percent of the union members employed by Chanel and Estee Lauder in Korea are demanding that “local head offices improve their working conditions regarding the number of workers, working hours, labor intensity and wages,” including shifts that allegedly force them to work nearly 12 hours a day without regular days off. Some have stated that this rigorous schedule applies even for women who are heavily pregnant.
But, the Korea Times states that “management at the foreign luxury cosmetics firms have rejected their requests.”
"The recent strike shows the desperation of workers in the services industry," a representative for Korean Federation of Service Workers' Unions said in a statement on Tuesday. "Although department stores look luxurious and fancy, salesclerks working there are suffering from intense work for low wages. This is the reality of the nation's cosmetics industry."
Chanel and Estee Lauder are not the only companies at fault for employing such labor standards, and in fact, this is a widespread problem in the department stores across the country, as union members testified in connection with a National Assembly audit of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy in October 2017.
"I work from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and work for 12 hours a day on weekends," Chanel's union head Kim So-yeon, who acts as a Chanel salesclerk at Hyundai Department Store's Apgujeong branch in Seoul, told the Ministry last year. "Due to the long working hours and late closing time, I cannot take care of my child at all."
"Most of my colleagues are feeling difficulties in pregnancy and delivery," she elaborated. "I want the company to allow regular days off at least twice a month."
A spokesman for Chanel Korea provided TFL with the following statement in response to reports about the labor strike, "Chanel Korea is fully committed to genuine workplace dialogue with the trade union representatives. We regret that this strike has taken place, at a time when, as part of a plan of action to reach agreement on improving employee working conditions in a demanding business climate, the company has offered salary terms that are above the industry average, as well as various employee benefits. As a result, we have reached a partial agreement to increase salaries. One point of disagreement remains over pay increases for certain job functions, which is why the negotiations have not been fully concluded.
Chanel constantly strives to enable its employees to progress, and meets its legal obligations in every respect, whether under the Labor Standards Law or the Labor Standard Act in Korea. Chanel is doing all it can to resolve this situation to reach an agreement that satisfies its employees while at the same time ensuring the best client experience possible for our consumers."