The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and non-profit Labour Behind the Label are using International Women’s Day on March 8 as an opportunity to raise awareness for the injustices garment workers face.
Protestors will be demonstrating outside of Uniqlo’s flagship London store to pressure the Fast Retailing-owned company to pay the $5.5 million in severance that it has owed 2,000 garment workers at the former Jaba Garmindo factory in Indonesia for close to five years. Most of the employees, CCC stated, are women who are now homeless.
At the end of 2014, Uniqlo—one of the factory’s main buyers—pulled its orders and triggered the factory’s 2015 bankruptcy, leaving 4,000 garment workers suddenly unemployed. Employees were given no indication that the company was experiencing financial hardship, and they learned of the factory closure through media reports.
Since then, CCC reports that Uniqlo has denied any responsibility and refuses to mediate with the workers.
What’s more, Uniqlo recently signed the first formal alliance between a clothing company based in Asia and UN Women, an entity working for the empowerment of women. The goal, according to a statement by Fast Retailing founder and Uniqlo CEO Tadashi Yanai, is to “create an enabling environment for all women in our business and those in our company to play an active role in society.”
CCC is calling the move hypocritical. “If Uniqlo cares at all about female empowerment, they will take immediate steps to resolve this case and pay the workers what they are owed,” Ilana Winterstein, CCC’s urgent appeals campaigner, said in a statement. “These 2,000 workers are not asking for charity; they are asking for what they have earned by law, while making clothes for Uniqlo. We’re calling on CEO Tadashi Yanai to do the right thing and pay the $5.5 million and give these workers back a future.”
Currently, Indonesia doesn’t offer state benefits and requires companies to provide severance for workers—and in this case, CCC notes that under Indonesian law, Uniqlo is legally obligated to pay. Wage theft and severance violations are of growing concern across the garment industry for instances like these.
Complaints have been filed with multiple organizations, including the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which the Clean Clothes Campaign is calling one of the workers’ “last available mechanisms for remedy.”