Japanese fast-fashion giant Uniqlo is under fire for allegedly employing “harsh and dangerous” working conditions at the Chinese factories that manufacture its garments, per a report by the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). According to the recently released Investigative Report on the Working Conditions in UNIQLO’s China Suppliers, SACOM’s undercover project found that at least two Uniqlo suppliers in southern China were systematically underpaying their laborers, forcing them to work excessive hours and subjecting them to unsafe working conditions, which included sewage-covered floors, poor ventilation, and sweltering temperatures. Uniqlo, which is a subsidiary of Fast Retailing, Asia’s largest clothing retailer, sources about 70 percent of its garments from China.
According to the SACOM report: “Low wages, excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions, heavy fines, harsh management style and ineffective platform for expressing workers’ concerns are putting workers in a vulnerable condition.” Specifically, SACOM’s report alleges that workers at Pacific Textiles and Luenthai Garment factories were paid as little as one third of the average monthly salary of other urban workers in the Guangdong province. In order to earn an adequate wage, most volunteered to work overtime; workers at Pacific Textiles worked on average an additional 134 hours a month, and at Luenthai, 122 hours. The conditions included sewage-covered floors that made electrical accidents more likely, such as one that occurred in July 2014, killing one worker. The report states that temperatures were known to reach about 100°F, causing workers to faint.
Maybe the most damning information gathered by SACOM, however, is a worker’s testimony that Uniqlo knew or should have known that the garments factories were maintaining such deplorable labor practices. According to a worker at Luenthai who was interviewed by SACOM, a Uniqlo representative came every Tuesday and Thursday to visit the factory.
In response to the report, Fast Retailing issued a statement asserting that it has inspected both of the factories at issue, and found “several problems, including long working hours,” but that the company and SACOM “have different views on some of the issues described in the report.” Fast Retailing further stated said that it has urged the factories to improve conditions and that the company would assess their progress in one month. Interestingly, Fast Retailing did NOT cut off ties with the suppliers.