"We are entitled to severance pay, we worked for it, but nobody pays us. Getting the pay that we are owed will make a world of difference, we will get our lives back, we can pay for our children’s education, and they will have a future again."
Uniqlo, high time to pay
"All women should be able to pursue their dreams and forge a new tomorrow. We want to see women enjoy infinite possibilities. We believe in a world that enables women to live their own lives and cherish their true values. UNIQLO will be there to offer a variety of support through the power of clothing."
These are grandiose words from the Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, which has over 1000 stores around the world. The contrast with reality couldn’t be any greater. In Jakarta, Indonesia, Uniqlo left two thousand garment workers to their fate for years. These workers are entitled to severance pay of 2400 euros per person which they have never been paid.
Jaba Garmindo factory bankrupt, Uniqlo looks away
In April 2015, two Indonesian clothing factories in Cikupa and Majalengka closed down overnight, without paying legally required severance payments and several months of wages to its mostly female workforce. The factory closures followed the sudden bankruptcy of the company after its major buyers, most notably Uniqlo, withdrew their business from the factory. The thousands of workers employed by Jaba Garmindo were given no warning that their factory was in trouble. They only learned of the factory closure and bankruptcy through media reports.
Rohayati (49) is one of the thousands of garment workers who, in 2015, was out on the streets from one day to the next, when the two Jaba Garmindo factories went bankrupt. "My son had to drop out of school because we couldn't pay for the fees anymore. I can't even take care of my sick mother," she says, summing up her situation.
Judge rules in favour of employees
When the garment workers went to court the Indonesian judge ruled that altogether the two thousand workers are entitled to almost five million euros (US$ 5.5 million), about 2400 euros per person. Good news, but because the Jaba Garmindo factory is bankrupt there is no money to be had, and there is no assistance available from the government.
"Uniqlo is an expensive clothing brand,” says Dila, who worked in the Jaba Garmindo factory. “But we, the ones who made the clothes, received very low wages. All that mattered to Uniqlo was whether the orders were ready on time for export."
With its ever-increasing billion-dollar turnover and nearly two billion euros in profits in 2021, it is unbelievable that Uniqlo still refuses to pay garment workers their unpaid wages and severance pay.
"We are entitled to severance pay, we worked for it, but nobody pays us. Getting the pay that we are owed will make a world of difference, we will get our lives back, we can pay for our children’s education, and they will have a future again." says one of the Jaba Garmindo workers.
In 2015, a local union requested support from the Clean Clothes network for the workers of Jaba Garmindo. Together with unions, women's organisations and migrant organisations, Clean Clothes launched the #PayUpUniqlo campaign, to urge Uniqlo to pay up. Two workers travelled to Uniqlo stores and the headquarters in Japan on a speakers tour. This led to the brand appearing to be willing to engage in talks in 2017.
Fast Retailing turns a deaf ear
However, Uniqlo nor the parent company Fast Retailing ever intended to negotiate in good faith. They repeated their offer for re-employment hours away from where the workers live and refused to engage on the topic of compensation. Repeated requests from the local union for follow-up meetings were ignored. In a response in January 2018, the parent company Fast Retailing also failed to meet with workers.
Research by Clean Clothes Campaign in East Asia reveals that Fast Retailing also violates labour rights at production sites in China and Cambodia. Nevertheless, the company had a turnover of 17 billion euros in 2020, making it the third-largest fast fashion company after Inditex and H&M.
"Uniqlo is eager to be seen as an important, influential player in the garment industry," says Mirjam van Heugten of Clean Clothes Campaign. "They want to be the Japanese answer to H&M. But such a position also brings responsibility with it. Uniqlo must show that they take their international status seriously, by agreeing to negotiate payment to the Jaba Garmindo workers."
Uniqlo continues to ignore ruling from Fair Labor Association
In 2019, Clean Clothes Campaign together with a group of workers from the Indonesian Jaba Garmindo factory filed a complaint with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a multi-stakeholder initiative of which Uniqlo is a member. Two years later, in 2021, the FLA recommended Uniqlo provide financial relief to the workers. Seven months later (February 2022) the company had not paid a cent.
It's vital that Uniqlo pays up immediately. Clean Clothes Campaign continues to call on Uniqlo and other brands to pay up, through amongst others sharing an open letter from Jaba Garmindo workers to Uniqlo.
You can support the garment workers by sharing this open letter or by sending a #PayYourWorkers message to Uniqlo on Twitter. Learn more about this case by watching the poignant documentary ”How to steal your worker’s future”.
Indonesia is one of the top ten textile-producing countries in the world. It exports textiles and clothing to the US, EU and the Middle East. Wages in Indonesia vary by province; there are 34 different regions, each with its own minimum wage. The more developed a province is, the higher the minimum wage. Indonesia has been struggling with sudden factory closures for years because clothing brands expect their suppliers to deliver quickly, flexibly and cheaply, many clothing factories are relocating to countries where wages are (even) lower.
- Statements FR: https://www.fastretailing.com/eng/sustainability/news/1801180900.html
- Investigation CCC SA to FR: https://cleanclothes-ea.org/content/en-5
- Updates: https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/indonesia-terminated-workers-of-uniqlos-jaba-garmindo-factory-demand-payment-of-wages-company-responds/
- Indonesia: https://www.fairwear.org/programmes/countries/indonesia/\