Consumers Union of Japan has co-signed the open letter calling on Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., owner of the UNIQLO brand, to guarantee labour rights in its supplier in Cambodia. We are urging Fast Retailing to increase their leverage by cooperating with other brands, e.g. H&M and Lindex, sourcing from both Zhong Yin as well as from a number of suppliers belonging to the parent company, Beijing Joywin. We firmly call upon Fast Retailing to act swiftly and responsibly, to use all their leverage and ensure the fundamental rights of workers to freedom of association.
How can we avoid eating genetically modified (GM) foods? Our petition campaign which started in 2015 has generated a lot of interest all over Japan, and we are collecting more and more signatures from people telling us that they strongly support the call for GM labels. This is the second round of our effort to show politicians and the government that all GM foods should be labelled properly. We will hold a meeting on October 7, 2016 at the Japanese Parliament in Nagatacho, Tokyo. Invited speakers will discuss the background and outline the threat to the consumers’ right to know, as the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) will make it even more difficult for consumers to choose in an increasingly globalized world. Please participate and learn more about these important issues.
Date: October 7, 2016
Location: House of Representatives (Shugiin) 2nd Bldg. Hall 1, Nagatacho, Tokyo
-Explanation of the problem with Japan’s current GM labelling rules
-Discussion session: What do consumers want?
-Signature submission to government officials
Consumers Union of Japan
No! GMO Campaign
Food Safety Citizens’ Watch
Interview with SACOM’s Sophie Chen: “Violation of Human Rights at UNIQLO Factories Continues”
Fast Retailing (FR) has grown to become Japan’s top fashion enterprise, known for selling high quality clothes at relatively low prices under the brand name UNIQLO. One would assume that such high performance is due to efforts including planning and reducing waste in the entire chain from production to sales. Instead, there is a dark side to the success of FR and UNIQLO including long overtime conditions and general violations of workers’ human rights. Consumers Union of Japan talked to Sophie Chen at the Hong Kong-based NGO Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) when she visited Tokyo in March, 2016, together with Human Rights Now. This was her second visit to Japan after revealing the results of SACOM’s first investigation in January, 2015.
Q: Please tell us about the purpose of your second visit to Japan!
A: In January 2015, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), Labour Action China (LAC), and a Tokyo-based organization, Human Rights Now, jointly launched the first investigation into labour conditions at two of UNIQLO’s key suppliers in China: Pacific Textile Ltd (Pan Yu) and Dongguan Luen Thai Garment Co., Ltd. Fast Retailing acknowledged the validity of several of our findings. In July 2015 they released a CSR action report listing the corrections they claimed to have done. For example, they suggested reducing the amount of overtime at the factories and a renewal of the drainage system to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals. Following this, we completed a follow-up investigation to examine whether the corrective measures FR claimed had in fact been done, and to check the current working condition in both factories. We found that employers still don’t pay the mandatory social insurance premiums, which include pension and maternity leave insurance. Workers are not educated about the risks associated with chemicals, and protective gear is not made available. As for overtime, it is still not unusual for workers to do up to 150 hours a month, in addition to their regular 160 hours.
The purpose of this visit is to make Japanese consumers aware of the violations against workers’ human rights in new factories in China and Cambodia. This is the reality. For example, labour unions that should represent the workers and propose improvements are being pressured by the factory owners, and fair union elections are difficult to carry out. There have even been cases of dismissal and police arrests of union leaders.
Q: What does Fast Retailing say?
A: Well, the factories that makes UNIQLO’s clothes insist that the responsibility lies with Fast Retailing, but at the same time, the brand itself is where the real profits come. Thus UNIQLO’s role in the big supply chain means that they should shoulder the largest responsibility. It could be argued that the severe working conditions are a direct result of FR’s high quality standards. Factories that don’t deliver will not get the contracts, and penalties are imposed when there are delays or issues. Due to the low profit margin at the factory level, the workers’ salaries are low. This means that workers must work overtime to be able to make a living. Companies like H&M have shown that it is possible to step in and change the conditions for the factory workers that supply their clothes. We are simply asking Fast Retailing to make these changes.
Q: What can consumers do?
A: When buying clothes, people need to think about the working conditions and imagine the situation that those who make them are in. When consumers start making an appeal to producers, their voices cannot be ignored. For example, it is effective to ask Fast Retailing about their CSR report. It will also be necessary to accept that we have to pay a higher price. It is worth pointing out that the inexpensive clothes are the reason people are being exploited. Don’t you think it is important to walk around dressed in a way that you know you have paid a fair price for?
(Interview by Yoko Sugiura & Kaori Hirouchi. Article first published in CUJ’s newsletter, Shouhisha Report No. 1584 April 20, 2016))
Consumers Union of Japan, the No! GMO Campaign and Food Safety Citizen’s Watch will hold an event in the Japanese Parliament to present the results so far of our petition campaign to collect signatures for better labelling of genetically modified food. The event will be an opportunity to discuss GM food in light of the new realities presented by the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that may soon be signed by 12 countries, including Japan. The TPP agreement also deals with cross-border trade barriers, and could mean that other countries or corporations may challenge Japan’s food labelling laws.
Since August, 2015 a large number of consumers have signed our petition to improve the mandatory GM labelling laws from 2000 to include all GM foods, and to lower the limit at which foods with GM ingredients must be labelled, which is currently 5% (for example, the limit in the European Union is 0.9%). We are strongly urging the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety to instruct the Consumer Agency to push for improved labelling of all GM foods in Japan, based on the fundamental principles of the consumers’ right to know and right to choose.
Date: January 27, 2016
Location: House of Representatives (Shugiin) 2nd Bldg. Hall 1, Nagatacho, Tokyo
Protest Action against Japan’s new Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) under the Department of Defense on October 1, 2015
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration has done everything in his power to change Japan’s peace constitution, defying the peaceful wishes of a majority of the people. His government abolished the nation’s Three Principles banning exports of weapons in April, 2014. The plan is to make Japan a major weapons producer and arms exporter. Abe has even gone so far as to order the purchase of 17 Ospreys from Bell Helicopter in the United States for $3 billion, wasting an extravagant amount of tax revenue.
“Making a profit selling weapons is a most contemptible act, but the Abe government is now attempting to engage in this vile behavior as a state enterprise,” comments Koa Tasaka, co-chairman of Consumers Union of Japan. It is estimated that a third of Japan’s entire defense budget is being allocated for the new agency to handle the sales and purchases of weapons under the Department of Defense.
It rained on October 1, 2015, the day the new Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) under Japan’s Department of Defense was established in central Tokyo. A protest demonstration was held by peace organizations and NGOs outside the gates. Koa Tasaka further notes: ”I would like to step up the activities to bring down Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration in the next election as he is persevering in his immoral support for the weapons industry.”
Koa Tasaka explains: “Production and exports of arms should be stopped. Exporting weapons and weapon systems evokes war and prolongs suffering. More and more people have become aware of the importance of peace, especially considering the horrible impact war has on children around the world. In spite of this, Shinzo Abe’s government and Japan’s Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) are behind the immoral promotion of this, giving priority to money over the lives of human beings.”