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.
Report: The Message from Consumers in Japan:
Stop using Antibiotics at Animal Farms!
– We asked fast food companies to reply to our questionnaire –
July 20, 2016
“The antibiotics won’t work…” Isn’t it rather unbelievable to hear about such a crisis for modern medicine? If no action is taken, resistance to antibiotics and similar drugs (antimicrobial resistance) will cause 300 million deaths a year globally by 2050. Massive overuse of antibiotics has increased the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Whilst over-consumption of antibiotics in human medicine is a huge problem, what is less well known is that around half of the world’s antibiotics are consumed by farm animals. In many cases animals are not given the drugs because they are sick, but because producers want them to grow faster, or to prevent illness from spreading amongst animals raised in poor conditions. Is meat from such cattle, pigs and chicken really safe to eat?
Consumers Union of Japan decided to send a questionnaire to food companies including fast food chains, convenience stores and family restaurants that sell a lot of different meat products in Japan.
The aim of our investigation was to get a clear picture of how globalization has influenced the fast food industry in Japan, and how food safety is being dealt with at fast food chains and restaurants operating in this country. Our questionnaire included a number of issues, but in this report we will focus on the question: Does the company have a policy for not using antibiotics for animal growth promotion? These foods are imported legally and sold in Japan, even as they are causing an increased level of concern worldwide.
About the questionnaire:
Many consumers are wondering, “Is the food made by this company really OK?” when eating out or purchasing it at a supermarket or a convenience store. There is no choice but to believe in the information provided, regarding food safety. But we also have doubts that a corporation pursuing profits will be making all kinds of fanciful statements.
Consumers International (CI) and its Members are calling on multinational restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, KFC and Subway, to make global commitments to end the routine use of antibiotics important for human medicine.
Specifically, in February 2016 a CI report found that McDonald’s, KFC and Subway currently fall far short in their response to the global antibiotic resistance health risk. We need to use this opportunity to tell McDonalds, KFC and Subway that they must act to:
- Define a global, time-bound action plan to phase out the routine use of antibiotics important in human medicine across all meat and poultry supply chains
- Show progress by adopting third-party auditing of their antibiotics use policies and publishing the results.
Replies from companies in Japan: “Do you use meat from animals given antibiotics for growth promotion purposes?”
McDonald’s: “Our company uses a global feed standard and restricts the use of antibiotics in the US, but the animals in other countries are raised following the rules in each country. The beef used in Japan comes from cattle raised in New Zealand and Australia, and we follow the Japanese Food Hygiene Law and the local regulations for animal drugs and feed additives as well as the global standard. Pork used in Japan comes from the US and chicken from Thailand. Also for these products we follow the global standard and local regulations.”
CUJ comment: The above reply does not confirm that McDonald’s does not use antibiotics as for the purpose of growth promotion in animal feed, but rather that it is possibly being used routinely. There seems to be no real concern for antibiotic resistance and the need to phase out the routine use of antibiotics important in human medicine, or to adopt third-party auditing as called for by CI.
KFC: “All chicken we sell in Japan are being raised at farms in Japan. Antibiotics and antimicrobials are not used for the purpose of growth promotion.”
CUJ comment: This reply from KFC clearly denies using antibiotics, but we cannot be sure that this is the case. We also do not know if they use antibiotics important in human medicine in the case when birds get sick, and if they use it for the entire flock or just administer it to individual birds. Third-party auditing as called for by CI would be an assurance that they understand the seriousness of the issue of antibiotic resistance.
Subway: “We do not use antibiotics as drugs to cattle for the purpose of growth promotion.”
CUJ comment: This reply from Subway clearly denies using antibiotics, but we cannot be sure that this is the case. We also do not know if they use antibiotics important in human medicine in the case when birds get sick, and if they use it for the entire flock or just administer it to individual birds. Third-party auditing as called for by CI would be an assurance that they understand the seriousness of the issue of antibiotic resistance.
Freshness Burger: “We can confirm that there is almost no use.”
CUJ comment: It can be said that the level of awareness about antibiotics is high.
Mos Burger: Antibiotics and antimicrobial agents are being used to different degrees to treat disease depending on the type of illness, and we use the drugs properly according to the situation.”
CUJ comment: This is not a direct reply to our question, so we contacted their consumer hot-line for clarification. They confirmed that they currently use antibiotics for meat production.
“KFC, Subway and Freshness Burger all appear to have gone to great length to avoid using antibiotics for the purpose of growth promotion at their respective animal farms,” says Michiyo Koketsu, CUJ.
“On the other hand, McDonald’s did not reply that they do not use antibiotics in this way, and Mos Burger clearly said they use antibiotics. McDonald’s in the US has stated that they will move away from using antibiotics for growth promotion for chicken, so there is a chance that McDonald’s in Japan will also move in this direction sooner or later. We strongly support Consumers International’s global campaign to lobby these corporations to move away from routinely using antibiotics in animal feed for the purpose of growth promotion.”
Contact: Michiyo Koketsu
Consumers International and its Members will be continuing to build pressure on KFC, McDonald’s and Subway in the run-up to the UN high level meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance, to be held in New York this September.
“McDonald’s and Yum! Brands (the parent company for KFC) have been holding their annual general meetings (AGMs) in May, 2016. Consumers International (CI) used both of these meetings to put pressure on the two companies to make global commitments on ending the use of antibiotics in their meat supply chains,” explains Amanda Long, director of CI.
Amanda Long says, “We will also be launching a pilot digital action with a number of our Members. This will allow supporters of the Antibiotics off the Menu campaign in participating Member countries to directly email KFC, McDonald’s and Subway to call on them to commit to ending the routine use of antibiotics important for human medicine in their global meat supply chains.”
CI will be working with Members to develop additional campaign ideas and support national campaigning activity in the months leading up to the UN high level meeting in September.
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))