Uniqlo's Hong Kong-listed suppliers 'putting workers lives in danger'

Firms manufacturing products for Japanese fashion brand accused of substandard working conditions and endangering employees' health

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2015, 4:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 January, 2015, 6:03pm

Major Hong Kong-listed suppliers to Japanese fast fashion brand Uniqlo have been accused of risking the health and lives of their migrant workers with substandard factory conditions.

An investigation by Hong Kong-based labour rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom) into the factories, owned by Pacific Textiles and Luen Thai and based on the mainland, found a series of failings.

Issues at a Pacific factory in Panyu , Guangzhou and Luen Thai factory in Dongguan included excessive working hours, a lack of personal protective equipment and employees working in hot temperatures.

The investigation found workers expected to complete up to 134 extra hours a month at Pacific, on top of regular 12-hour days, while Luen Thai employees were mandated to complete up to 112 hours a month more on top of the 11-hour daily shifts.

Neither company provided any protective equipment in areas where fabrics were mixed with dye or other chemicals and, during the summer, factory floor temperatures soared as high as 42 degrees Celsius as employees took off their shirts to work in poorly ventilated environments.

In one account, Sacom heard raw sewage flowed across the Pacific factory floor, causing a worker to die from electrocution after machinery came into contact with the water and waste.

The investigation into the two Hong Kong-listed companies - chosen as they were key suppliers to the Japanese brand - was conducted after Sacom members were hired in the two factories.

The first investigation, between July and August last year, discovered a series of issues. Later, Sacom and Japanese NGO Human Rights Now returned to the factories in late September to validate the findings.

Fast Retailing, the public Japanese retail company which owns Uniqlo, among other brands, said it had "moved quickly" in light of the claims. It confirmed in its own inspections several problems, including long working hours, but said it did not find other issues stated in the report. A spokeswoman said: "Fast Retailing has urged the two factories to resolve [the problems] immediately. We will take strict action if progress has not been made."

Report author Alexandra Chan Hiu-ching, the project officer for Sacom, urged Fast Retailing to immediately improve the suppliers' working conditions.

"They both bear equal responsibility for improving and changing the working conditions at these two factories," Chan said.

Sacom urged Uniqlo and Fast Retailing to globally comply with the "promises" laid out in their corporate social responsibility commitment.

The labour rights group said it will meet the retailer's representatives in Tokyo next week.

Uniqlo suppliers Pacific Textiles and Luen Thai could not be reached for comment.