Former Uniqlo garment workers vulnerable due to COVID-19 restrictions on fifth anniversary of factory closure

Five years after factory bankruptcy, 2,000 workers are still campaigning for $5.5 million legally-owed in severance pay. Many relied on informal work and are now facing unprecedented hardship due to COVID-19 restrictions. Uniqlo has failed in its responsibility to address and remedy adverse human rights impacts of its business practices.

April 22nd marks the fifth anniversary of the Jaba Garmindo factory bankruptcy in Indonesia. 2,000 former workers who were making clothes for Uniqlo, as well as the German brand s.Oliver, are still campaigning to receive the US $5.5 million in severance pay they are legally-owed. The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) calls on Uniqlo, operating under parent company Fast Retailing, and s.Oliver to take immediate action to remedy the financial precarity these workers face by paying the full $5.5 million owed to them under Indonesian law. Both companies are currently being investigated by the Fair Labor Association over their actions concerning this case. 
Since the sudden loss of their jobs, these workers have been forced into profoundly vulnerable situations, compounded by the current COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions. A large number have been unable to find alternative factory work over the past five years: some deemed too old, having worked at Jaba Garmindo for years, and others unofficially blacklisted due to their ongoing campaigning. Many have relied on informal income from work such as street vending, childcare or laundering clothes and now face unprecedented hardship, with reports that a large number can only afford to eat plain rice. The former Jaba Garmindo workers have no state protection and will not be covered under the Indonesian benefits system or COVID-19 related funds. Many are surviving by borrowing money where they can, however with no means to repay their mounting debts this is not a long-term solution.
Uniqlo has manifestly failed and continues to fail in its clear moral responsibility towards these workers. International standards dictate that companies must address and remedy adverse human rights impacts of their business practices and, had Uniqlo acted responsibly, the 2,000 Jaba Garmindo workers would not be in such desperate positions now.
The CCC also calls upon UN Women, an organisation dedicated to championing women’s equality worldwide, to take active steps with their global programme partner Uniqlo to address the suffering being faced by these former garment workers. CCC has contacted UN Women and invited them to meet the workers affected but as yet received no response.
Organisations, individuals and brands who are conducting business relationships with Uniqlo are strongly urged to step up and call upon Uniqlo to protect the former Jaba Garmindo workers, some of the most vulnerable in the current global crisis. Finnish design brand Marimekko, for example, will release their third capsule collection with Uniqlo tomorrow (April 23rd). Of its ongoing collaboration, Marimekko have said Uniqlo is a partner “with whom we share values”, yet also state on their website they believe in “Fairness to everyone and everything”. CCC ask Marimekko to make sure that their stated ethics are more than empty CSR rhetoric. Marimekko have refused to meet with CCC representatives to discuss this case.
“The 2,000 workers of Jaba Garmindo have been waiting for five years and are now living in extremely perilous situations with no income or means to support themselves under COVID-19 restrictions. Uniqlo and s.Oliver must immediately step up and pay up, as this has truly become life and death. We also call on UN Women to fulfil the aims of their partnership with Uniqlo by taking an urgent stand for women’s rights in the garment sector and ensuring that the Jaba Garmindo workers are not forgotten. Anything less is a contradiction of their aims,” said Ilona Kelly, Urgent Appeals Coordinator, Clean Clothes Campaign.

published 2020-04-21