A Hong Kong-based nongovernmental organization that discovered poor working environments at two Chinese factories who supply goods to Uniqlo said Friday it plans to continue investigating more Chinese factories that partner with the casual clothing giant.
The Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (Sacom) shared its findings, including low wages, excessive overtime work and unsafe labor conditions, earlier this week.
Responding to the Sacom’s report, Fast Retailing Co., which runs Uniqlo, announced on Thursday steps it plans to take to improve working conditions at the plants, admitting some of the points in the report were true.
“This is just the beginning of the campaign. We see a lot of promises from Uniqlo’s statement. But it won’t just stop us at this stage,” said Alexandra Chan, a Sacom project officer, at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.
She said Sacom and Tokyo-based NGO Human Rights Now will meet a Uniqlo executive next week to discuss the issue.
Sacom has been looking into labor situations at Chinese suppliers that serve big international firms like Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. It sent undercover investigators to a factory run by Pacific Textiles Ltd. and one owned by Dongguan Tomwell Garment Co. Both are leading players in the industry who employ thousands of workers, Chan said.
“If they do something like that, what about other smaller-scale factories. They do not have adequate resources compared to these factories,” she said.
The poor working conditions described at the factories include one at Pacific that lacks air-conditioning, causing many of the men there to go topless when it gets hot, which is unsafe.
It also said the factory has a poor sewage system that leaves wastewater all over the floor, including chemicals used to dye fabrics, which could pose a health risk to employees.
Long working hours are an issue as well, since Pacific Textile employees work 308 hours and Dongguan Tomwell workers 286 hours per month, considerably higher than the China’s standard of 174 hours.
Fast Retailing promised to make reforms within a month.
“Fast Retailing has urged the factories to take swift action on the issues identified in the Sacom report, and we will cooperate fully with them to ensure that improvements are made. Together with third parties, including auditors and NGOs, we will check progress within one month,” said Yukihiro Nitta, Fast Retailing Group Executive Officer responsible for corporate social responsibility.
Fast Retailing’s instructions include increasing the number of holidays, making improvements to the working environment, including air quality and temperature checks, and rethinking the use of fines and other penalties used to punish employees. It also promised to carry out more unannounced checks on the factories.
While Chan said she appreciates Fast Retailing’s decision to take action, she still has some concerns.
For instance, while Fast Retailing says it instructed Dongguan to urge its workers to form a labor union, hold elections and its first meeting by March, Chan said it will be tough to establish a truly functioning labor union so quickly, adding there needs to be more time to provide proper education and training.