January 15, 2015 / 9:11 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 2-Uniqlo tells Chinese suppliers to improve work conditions

(Adds factory comment)

By Chris Gallagher

TOKYO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Uniqlo-owner Fast Retailing Co Ltd has told two suppliers in China to improve factory working conditions after an inspection by the Japanese apparel retailer found problems, including long working hours.

The move comes after SACOM, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, issued a report saying employees at Dongguan Tomwell Garment Co Ltd and Pacific (Pan Yu) Textiles Ltd were working excessive hours in unsafe conditions, including high temperatures, poor ventilation and floors covered with sewage.

Factory safety at suppliers to global clothing brands has been under particular scrutiny since the 2013 collapse of a factory in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 workers.

In China, poor working conditions have been widely blamed for contributing to a number of suicides in recent years, such as at factories of Apple Inc supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, also known as Foxconn.

“Respecting human rights and ensuring appropriate working conditions for the workers of our production partners are top priorities for Fast Retailing, and in this we are completely aligned with SACOM,” Yukihiro Nitta, group executive responsible for corporate social responsibility, said on Thursday.

The company said it had told Dongguan Tomwell and Pacific (Pan Yu) to make various improvements at their factories and in regulating working hours. It also instructed Dongguan Tomwell to establish a workers’ union, hold elections and organise its first assembly in March, it said.

However, its inspection found discrepancies with several points in SACOM’s report regarding Pacific (Pan Yu), including that the cause of a worker’s death was electrocution. It said it would continue its inspection and seek talks with SACOM.

Dongguan Tomwell makes clothes for Uniqlo and Pacific (Pan Yu) supplies garment factories, including Dongguan. Dongguan Tomwell’s parent company, Luen Thai, said it took fair treatment of workers very seriously.

In response to the SACOM report, it said it was “committed to establishing strict measures to ensure that our operations are in accordance with UNIQLO’s Code of Conduct for Product Partners” and that it would “make ongoing efforts to prevent excessive overtime. In addition, an independent system will be set up to review all aspects of this issue and to closely monitor the progress.”

Pacific (Pan Yu) did not answer calls seeking comment.

Fast Retailing also said it would improve its monitoring system for manufacturing partners including beefing up measures to check overtime hours, tracking employee accidents and strikes, and introducing a system to monitor textile factories that supply garment plants.

Nitta said Fast Retailing would check progress within a month along with third parties including auditors. (Additional reporting by Clare Baldwin and Donny Kwok in HONG KONG; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Mark Potter)

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