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UNIQLO, Japanese Fast Fashion Label, Accused of Labor Violations

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Uniqlo Store. Photo: raptor_cZn. Beneath the glitz, sweatshops.
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Chinese factories in Dongguan and Guangzhou that supply UNIQLO - a "fast fashion" label owned by Fast Retailing Co. from Japan - have been accused of endangering their workers' lives, according to a new report from Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), a Hong-Kong based labor rights group.

SACOM worked with Labor Action China (LAC) and Human Rights Now (HRN), a Japanese non-profit, to conduct research on two UNIQLO suppliers in 2014 - the Luen Thai factory in Dongguan and Pacific Textiles factory in Guangzhou. The report revealed that excessive working hours, low basic wages, unsafe working environments and harsh punishments for workers were rampant in both factories.The activists say that Fast Retailing needs to do a better job of supervising working conditions in their factories.

"UNIQLO is an international brand, not just a Japanese brand. I don't think UNIQLO can tolerate defects in its clothing," Alexandra Chan Hiu-ching, project officer for SACOM, told the Associated Press. "I think UNIQLO should have high standards for its factory conditions as well."

The report is an indicator of an increasingly assertive labor movement in China. Over 1,000 strikes and protests were reported between June 2011 and the end of 2013 in China, of which 40 percent were conducted by factory workers. And in 2014, 40,000 workers in Yue Yuen shoe factories, the world's largest shoes manufacturer for big brands like Adidas and Nike, went on strike to demand (successfully) that their employers in Shenzhen make pension payments required under the law.

Excessive Working Hours and Low Basic Wages

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Pacific Textiles supplies textiles to garment factories while Luen Thai makes clothes for global apparel and accessory companies. Both are headquartered in Hong Kong. The first company offers its workers a basic monthly pay of RMB 1550 ($246) while the second offers RMB 1310 ($208) which are the minimum wage levels for the cities they work in.

In addition, workers are paid bonuses by the piece, so most put in as many hours as they can in order to earn as much as possible, even though they are not forced to.

"I work from early morning till 10 pm, sometimes till 11pm. I get RMB 0.29 ($0.046) for each UNIQLO shirt," a Luen Thai worker told SACOM. "I need to iron about 600 to 700 shirts every day. During peak time, I have to iron 900 shirts a day."

On an average, workers at Pacific put in 134 hours of over time while workers at Luen Thai put in 112 hours every month, despite the fact that China's Labor Law stipulates that overtime should not exceed 36 hours a month.

The researchers said that overtime work was recorded manually on paper at Luen Thai rather than on the regular computer system. "It can be seen that factories can avoid being checked by the social auditors on workers' working hours in this way." SACOM said in its online statement.
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Also not all workers are paid their full due since Pacific only pays 1.5 times of the basic wage for overtime pay on weekends, despite the fact that Chinese law requires double pay for weekends, according to SACOM.

As a result, UNIQLO contract workers made quite a bit less than the average actual wage for workers in Dongguan and Guangzhou who earn salaries of RMB 2,505 ($398) and RMB 5,808 ($924) respectively.

Working Conditions

SACOM reported that both factories maintained very high temperatures inside their facilities. At Pacific, the average temperatures recorded at the textile workshop was 38 Celsius (100 F) during the summer.

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