TOKYO — Fast Retailing chairman, president and chief executive Tadashi Yanai reacted with surprise and disappointment Tuesday over allegations that two of Uniqlo’s Chinese suppliers were overworking employees and running unsafe factories.
Last week, SACOM, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, issued a report saying that employees at Dongguan Tomwell Garment Co. Ltd. and Pacific (Pan Yu) Textiles Holdings Ltd. were working excessive hours in unsafe conditions, including extremely high temperatures, poor ventilation and floors covered with sewage. Fast Retailing has said its own investigations have uncovered some problems at the two factories in question and is monitoring the situation.
“I’m very surprised by the conditions [of workers],” Yanai told journalists on the sidelines of an event about corporate efforts to bolster the employment of women. “We had done other investigations before, so I am very surprised and disappointed that those conditions exist in those instances.”
Yukihiro Nitta, Fast Retailing’s group executive officer responsible for corporate social responsibility, said that the company had confirmed the accuracy of at least some elements of the SACOM report, and is working with the factory and NGOs to improve workers’ conditions immediately. He said the group will also be looking into conditions at other manufacturing facilities with which it works. Yanai said he doesn’t believe poor working conditions are the norm in China, where Fast Retailing sources much of its apparel.
“I think this case is an exception, and I think people have a misunderstanding [of working conditions in China],” Yanai said. “Chinese labor standards are not bad. The majority of factories are up to recent standards and have young employees working hard with the latest equipment and working on time. So you can’t think that [the results of] this investigation are normal.”
On Tuesday, the Japanese retailer held a meeting with 300 female store managers, deputy store managers and supervisors of its Uniqlo stores in Japan, to discuss efforts to boost the number of women in supervisory and managerial positions within the company. As of last August only 30 percent of Uniqlo’s store managers in Japan are female. Looking at Fast Retailing as a whole, just 13 percent of employees in managerial or supervisory roles are women. Yanai said he hopes to increase this figure to at least 50 percent in the near future.