Uniqlo has been accused of exploiting workers at its supplier factories in China, again.
The Japanese retailer owned by Fast Retailing is catching heat now that a new report out by labor rights group War on Want has said it’s hiding factories it uses and slyly exploiting workers.
War on Want’s partner, Hong Kong-based labor rights nonprofit Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), reportedly investigated four factories producing for Uniqlo that the retailer doesn’t disclose and found poor conditions present at each.
“These factories are kept secret by Uniqlo allowing it to abuse and exploit workers with impunity,” War on Want chairperson Steve Preston wrote in the report’s preface.
In these factories, Preston went on to write, working hours stretch as long as 20 hours per day and seven days a week, conditions are dangerous, harassment is an issue, and there has been a crackdown on workers who fight back.
It isn’t the first time Uniqlo has been called out for poor labor conditions at its factories in China either.
Last January, SACOM released a report claiming the retailer’s China factories lacked occupational health and safety protection for workers. The report also said workers were suffering from long hours, low wages and high-risk working conditions.
In response, Uniqlo said the following month that it would reduce working hours at two of its China-based suppliers after inspections proved some of the report’s claims right.
SACOM reinvestigated those two factories, Pacific Textile Ltd and Dongguang Tomwell Garment Co Ltd and looked into two more, Jintan Chenfeng Clothing Co Ltd and Dongguang Crystal Knitting and Garment Co Ltd, for this report. Each of the four is classified by Uniqlo as a “best-performing factory.”
Posing as general workers in the factories, SACOM investigators found that overtime was a major issue at all four locations. China stipulates that standard working hours should be 174 hours per month, and at Crystal Knitting, employees were working as much as 150 hours of overtime in a month—almost equal to working two full-time jobs while making less than a living wage.
“In some cases this required workers to work a 17-hour day from 7:30 am to midnight, seven days a week. Often they were not given leave to take a rest with workers working these excessive hours for two months straight,” the report noted.
SACOM also said workers had little other choice than to accept the overtime as their wages were well below the minimum for the region.
“The wages in the factories ranged from $196 to $231 per month. Taking overtime work as a way of earning enough to survive,” according to the report. And instead of being paid double their wages for overtime hours, workers were only earning 1.5 times their basic wage for the added effort.
When it came to working environments, SACOM said the temperature on the knitting floor at one of the factories was 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). Workers went without protective gear, with some even going shirtless and handling high temperature fabric loads in the dyeing department.
At Pacific and Tomwell, investigators found harmful, toxic wastewater “regularly” flooding factory floors.
The intent of the report, according to Preston, is to get the kind of supply chain transparency from big brands that will ensure ethical conditions for workers.
“Garment corporations, like Uniqlo, have never been called to account by national governments or international bodies for their abuse of garment factory workers,” Preston wrote. “While concerned stakeholders work to gently nudge garment corporations to consider taking responsibility for their factory workers, SACOM have taken a more direct approach in exposing the insidious reality of these voluntary initiatives that whitewash corporate rhetoric, highlighting the real impact that the culture of impunity has on the daily lives of workers.”