Uniqlo is publicly moving forward with its apparel sustainability commitments.
On Feb. 28, Fast Retailing, the parent company of the Japan-based retailer, released its list of 146 core factory suppliers as part of its ongoing supply chain transparency commitment. Fast Retailing also shared its 2017 Sustainability Report, which addresses potential labor abuse and non-environmental practices in its worldwide factories.
Last October, non-profit War on Want and Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) released a report that called out Uniqlo for unethical labor treatment in its supply chain. SACOM’s investigations allegedly found multiple labor rights abuses at Uniqlo’s factories, including dangerous working conditions and forced overtime.
“This is a lesson for UNIQLO,” War on Want senior programs officer Thulsi Narayanasamy said at the time. “They might have an international network of factories, but garment workers have an international network of people who stand in solidarity with them and have shown that they are prepared to act in support of them.”
Uniqlo disclosed its list after unions slammed the retailer for not taking responsibility for nearly 4,000 workers that lost their jobs after an Indonesia-based Uniqlo factory closed. The factory owed workers unpaid wages and more than $10 million in severance benefits.
Along with the supplier list, Uniqlo also released its Group Sustainability Policy. The policy outlines four priority areas, including responsible supply chain management, responsible products, responsible stores, stronger communities and responsibility toward employees. The policy will serve as a guideline for future compliance and sustainability initiatives, including Fast Retailing’s yearly sustainability report.
In its 2017 Sustainability Report, Uniqlo’s parent company noted its membership in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). As an SAC member, Uniqlo will benchmark factory performance with the Higg Index, a universal standard that evaluates suppliers on several environmental factors. With the Higg Index, Uniqlo will be able to determine which factories need sustainability and labor improvements this year.
“We will see where the gaps are and what factories we have to prioritize,” Fast Retailing Group SVP and sustainability director Yukihiro Nitta said. “We will go in and conduct technical assessments with engineers and see where the reductions can be made.”
Fast Retailing said it will continue supporting its Factory Worker Empowerment Project on an annual basis. To-date, more than 17,000 female garment workers from Bangladesh and Indonesia have benefited from the program, which enables women to have access to better healthcare. The company will also continue to support better working conditions with supply chain sustainability teams and frequent factory audits.
“The industry is at a point where an abundant labor force is available and we are growing our business to contribute to uplifting society,” director of Uniqlo production in Bangladesh Jothi Kanadaswamy said. “If we are sincere about the way we approach situations and the aim is to make the world a better place, we will definitely succeed.”