You may want to think twice the next time you step into Uniqlo to buy a cardigan. Hong Kong’s Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior claims that an investigation found sweatshop-like working conditions at two of the retailer’s supplier factories in China.
“Low wages, excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions, heavy fines, harsh management style and ineffective platform for expressing workers’ concerns” were just a few of the glaring problems uncovered by the research. The organization found that workers in two of Uniqlo’s supplier factories in Guangdong Province are paid one-third less monthly than other workers in that area. Overtime doesn’t offer much hope either — workers are paid time and a half as opposed to the required two times their hourly pay when fulfilling the extra hours.
“I work from the early morning until late 10pm. I sometimes even work until 11:00pm,” a factory worker from Luenthai told SACOM. “I have to iron 600-700 pieces of shirts per day, but each of the shirts from UNIQLO is only 0.29 RMB. In the peak season, I can iron 900 pieces of shirts in one day. I sometimes work on Sunday too! The piece rate is really too low for us. But it is very hard to increase.”
Photos SACOM took of the factories during the investigation show sewage pooling on the floor and employees working without proper gear. It notes the boiling temperatures at which the space is kept — around 100 degrees in the summer — caused a few workers to faint. The factories give employees a “high-temperature allowance” of $7 a day when installing a few well-placed air conditioners could probably help solve the problem. Last year, someone died when that watery sewage and an electrical leak from a machine touched.
Don’t think Uniqlo is completely unaware of what’s going on with its suppliers. According to Quartz, parent company Fast Retailing released a statement saying that in its own investigation of the factories (which a worker says the company checks quite frequently), it found “several problems, including long working hours.” Still, the company doesn’t think that SACOM’s findings, or at least the way the organization interpreted them, were that much of a big deal. Or, as Uniqlo so eloquently put it, the two organizations “have different views on some of the issues described in the report.”