[Investigative Report] Working Conditions in UNIQLO’s China Suppliers

Executive Summary

The UNIQLO campaign aims at empowering the workers by unveiling the poor labour conditions in China under the global fast fashion supply chain. It also has the strong hope of arousing the public awareness of the labour issues in the garment industry. UNIQLO is a Japanese fashion brand under Fast Retailing Co., Ltd. which has been expanding at an extremely quick pace and large scale. Its retail stores keep opening all over the world, especially in China. Apart from its good quality and consumer-friendly price, it also comes to our concern that whether its corporate social responsibility has been fulfilled or not. Pacific (Panyu) Textiles Ltd (hereafter Pacific) and Dongguan Luen thai Garment Co. Ltd (hereafter Luenthai) are targeted which are the key suppliers of UNIQLO knit fabrics and apparel respectively. They are located in Nansha and Dongguan in Guangdong province.

Here are the key issues that should be tackled as soon as possible:

1. Excessive long working hours and miscalculation of overtime wages
Pacific and Luenthai offer the basic monthly pay as RMB 1550 and RMB 1310 for the workers, which are only paying the minimum wage level of Guangzhou and Dongguang respectively. Yet, the average monthly salary level of workers in Dongguang and Guangzhou are RMB 2,505 and RMB 5,808 respectively in 20131. Working overtime therefore constitutes an important part of their total amount of the monthly salary, so as to make ends meet. The numbers of overtime working hours are shocking: 134 hours in Pacific and 112 hours in Luenthai2. Some workers from Pacific are asked to sign the “voluntary application of overtime work”. The application states that the overtime work is 119.5 hours. Labour Law Article 41 stipulates that the work time to be prolonged shall not exceed 36 hours a month.

Worse still, the overtime pay in weekend is miscalculated in Pacific, which is only 1.5 times of the basic wage instead of 2 times. In Luenthai, the overtime work record on Sunday and the overtime work exceeds 100 hours are recorded manually on papers instead of the computer system. It can be seen that factories can avoid being checked by the social auditors on workers’ working hours in this way.

2. High risk and unsafe working environment
Even with such large scale, financial capability and long operation history, the working conditions in both factories are still unsatisfactory. Workers health and safety are not at the top priority. Extreme high shop floor temperature, dirty sewage flowing all over the floor, unsafe facilities, poor ventilation with high cotton dust level in the air, irritating smell, high risk of electricity leakage are posing serious risks on workers’ health and safety. For example, occupational asthma, respiratory irritation, and dust explosion can be caused in high cotton dust shop floor. There is also an adverse effect of used chemicals on health and the risk of electrocution. Yet, no effective mechanism is implemented to tackle these problems. Pictures are put in section 2 for a clearer understanding of the problems.

3. Harsh management style and punishment system
In Pacific, there are 58 types of regulations which are set for punishing workers, 41 of them include fines. Fines are heavily used as a way to control product quality and to manage workers. In reality, different operation floors have their own punishments and rules which are not specifically stipulated in the regulations but are simply written on the whiteboard in the shop floor. For example, in the knitting department of Pacific, if defected fabrics are knitted or the knitting machine has dirt, the workers’ production bonus will be deducted , which is around RMB 50-100. Luenthai uses fines as well. However, according to the Labour Contract Law, it has not stated that the employers have any given right to punish employees by adopting different means such as using fines.

4. Unrepresented workers
General workers from these two investigated factories have no effective platform to voice out their concerns. In Pacific, the chairperson of the union is the director of administrative department which violates the Measures for the Election of the Trade Union Chairman of an Enterprise article 6, which stipulates that the executives in charge (including deputy executives) and partners of an enterprise and their close relatives, the persons in charge of the human resources department shall not be the candidates for the labor union chairman of the enterprise. Also, it violates Article 7 of the Measures of Guangzhou Municipality on Implementing the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Trade Unions. For Luenthai, there is no trade union at the factory level but a workers committee group and employee relation department in the factory. However, it is an ineffective means to facilitate workers to express their concerns.

We demand the Suppliers:

  • To provide at least one rest day every week for workers and limit the maximum overtime work to 36 hours a month;
  • To pay overtime according to the Chinese Labour Law;
  • To reform management style to respect workers’ dignity;
  • To ensure workers can have appropriate breaks regularly;
  • To provide adequate training concerning the health, safety, and protection of the workers, and ensure the workers to take regular health check ups;
  • To take all the necessary measures to ensure workers’ health to be protected from the harmful chemicals used in the production process and make it publicly available the outlined measures as well as the implementation

We demand Fast Retailing:

  • To facilitate the suppliers on the improvement in the working conditions by providing adequate resources;
  • To comply strictly to their corporate social responsibilities policies;
  • To support the set up of fully worker-represented trade union in their supplier by direct and democratic election;
  • To maintain transparency to public by disclosing full supply list where their products were manufactured

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