Three of the world’s top fashion labels, Zara, H&M and Gap, are supplied from factories which abuse workers’ rights, a Hong Kong-based non-government organization says after investigating factories in China.

Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) says it went undercover inside factories in Guangdong, Anhui, Shandong, and Hubei, provinces where shoes or garments for the brands are made.

Despite the companies’ claims to strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) records, SACOM says its investigation reveals a “remarkable disparity between the brands’ supplier factory CSR policies and the reality in their Chinese supplier factories.”

SACOM says the factories force workers to work excessively long overtime to meet disproportionally tight delivery time.

“The pressure from manager and co-workers [was] huge, and in some worst-case scenario[s], to achieve high production targets, workers were required to work from 7:30 am until 1-2 am, and only got one rest day a month,” SACOM says in a report.

SACOM says while the brands say their supplier factories should pay wages which can meet workers’ basic financial needs, its investigation found wages were calculated by “fixed and meager piece rates.”

“Their wages were even unstable due to the frequent changes in designs, and [the] difference between high and low seasons,” the report says. “Workers ended up not being paid a living wage.”

A woman browses for clothes inside Asia's largest Zara flagship store in Hong Kong

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

The investigation also uncovered that workers in some factories are exposed to toxic chemicals, cotton dust and other hazardous dusts without protective gear, and that worker representation in collective bargaining situations is poor.

SACOM is calling on the companies to work with its suppliers to improve working hours, remove “unfair” pay structures, provide a safe working environment and allow worker representation in unions.

For Zara’s owner – Spanish clothing giant Inditex – the reports comes just days after it was recognized by Greenpeace for its use of sustainable chemical products.

The H&M label is part of H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB, a Swedish multinational. The company has been working with the World Wildlife Fund to improve sustainability in the fashion industry.

Gap Inc., a U.S company, says it raised the minimum wage to US$10 for more than 60,000 U.S. employees last year. It also says it “consistently” visits the roughly 1,000 factories that make its clothes. The company’s brands include GAP, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Intermix and Athleta.

SACOM says that the supplier factories tell workers to lie to auditors and prepare fake documents to cover up their real working conditions.


Mike Mozart

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole