Business

Uniqlo operator partners with U.N. agency in bid to improve working conditions in Asia

Kyodo

Fast Retailing Co. said Wednesday it is partnering with the U.N.’s International Labour Organization to improve conditions for workers in Asia, in its latest push to ensure labor protection in countries where social security systems are underdeveloped.

The operator of Uniqlo casual clothing stores will provide $1.8 million (¥191 million) in funding over a two-year period through 2021 for ILO research on the labor markets and social security systems in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam — all countries where the Japanese company has production bases.

Fast Retailing, which also owns the GU brand, has stepped up efforts to increase transparency through measures such as disclosing the names of Uniqlo plants since 2017. One of its Chinese factories has drawn criticism from nongovernmental organizations for long working hours.

“To realize sustainable growth in Asia, it is important to ensure decent working environments and to uphold the rights of workers around the region,” said Tadashi Yanai, chairman and CEO of Fast Retailing.

Under the partnership, Fast Retailing and the ILO will also help promote employment insurance in Indonesia, where garment workers are at high risk of losing their jobs due to rapid changes in the industry.

The country’s existing social protection plans and labor market policies are insufficient to protect displaced workers, according to Fast Retailing.

PT Jaba Garmindo, a former Uniqlo supplier factory in Indonesia, went bankrupt in April 2015, prompting international NGOs to lobby Uniqlo to financially compensate former employees of the factory.

Fast Retailing said it has no legal obligation to compensate them but said in January this year it will make efforts to facilitate re-employment of the former workers who remain unemployed.

“Through the ILO partnership, we hope to expand our impact and find solutions to issues faced by all workers in Asia — not just those in our supply chain — through systemic social protection measures and improved working environments across the region,” Yanai said in a statement.

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