Workers at Uniqlo supplier in China strike over relocation: Rights groups

Also demand re-hiring of those dismissed
By Donny Kwok and Viola Zhou
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 06/16/2015

HONG KONG (Reuters) — Hundreds of workers are on strike over a relocation plan at a factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen that supplies Japan's Fast Retailing, the owner of the Uniqlo clothing brand, labour rights groups said on Tuesday.

The workers at the factory of Shenzhen Artigas Clothing & Leatherware began the strike on June 8, Alexandra Chan, project officer of Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, told Reuters. They are also demanding that some employees who have been dismissed be re-hired, she added.

Shenzhen Artigas Clothing is part of Hong Kong-based Lever Style, which supplies garments to several leading global brands, including Armani Exchange and Calvin Klein. Lever Style has been shifting manufacturing from China to Vietnam and other factories in Southeast Asia over the past several years, its executives have been quoted in media reports as saying.

The management of the Shenzhen factory was not immediately available for comment. Officials from Lever Style in Hong Kong were not immediately available for comment, while its chairman and chief executive, Stanley Szeto, did not immediately reply to an email request for comment.

Fast Retailing confirmed that some workers at the garment factory are on strike, although it did not provide numbers.

"While we are in the process of confirming the facts related to the strike, we have requested the management of Lever Shirt Co. to discuss this matter with the workers and reach a peaceful resolution," Fast Retailing said in an emailed statement.

Major manufacturers have been moving some of their production away from southern China to inland or to other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia as labour and production costs in the mainland escalate.

In March, thousands of workers at a factory of sports shoe maker Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings in the south of the country went on strike following changes to production processes.

Shenzhen Artigas Clothing itself witnessed a strike by factory workers in December last year.

SACOM's Chan said 900 workers have gone on strike in June. A Shenzhen-based labour rights group, which declined to be identified as it is helping the workers with negotiations, put the number at between 400 and 500, saying many of the workers had already left the factory since the December strike.

"The factory has stopped running. The workers are having a sit-in protest inside the factory," a spokesman of the Shenzhen labour rights group said. "The employer said they would not relocate (the facilities) following the strike in December, but in May they started to move (operations) again. This time the workers have decided to fight through to the end."

Fast Retailing has faced other issues in China relating to its suppliers. In January, the company told two suppliers in China to improve factory working conditions after its inspection found problems, including long working hours.

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