Malaysia: Labour group works with brands to address forced labour found in garment factory investigations

Author: Steven Greenhouse, The Guardian, Published on: 24 June 2019

"NGO's softly-softly tactics tackle labor abuses at Malaysia factories", 22 June 2019

The 18-month investigation unearthed serious abuses... hundreds of migrant workers had paid illegal recruitment fees that sometimes exceeded a year’s pay, while four of the factories retained the workers’ passports, turning them into forced laborers unable to quit...

Transparentem presented its findings on the Malaysian apparel factories to 23 western companies, and 15 of them agreed to help remediate the five factories: Honsin Apparel, Whitex Garments, Perindustrian Shunhon, SP Garments and Knit Textile Manufacturing. The western companies got four of the factories to stop using recruiters who demanded illegal fees. They also got them to repay nearly $1.8m in recruitment fees to more than 2,500 workers...

...Transparentem praised... Brooks Sports and Tracksmith, for their role at Perindustrian, where some workers said recruitment fees were so high it took two years to pay off any loans. Brooks paid a portion of the costs to reimburse... workers even though it had stopped buying from those companies. Tracksmith... also contributed to the reimbursements...

Transparentem also praised Primark and Target, noting that even though they had stopped sourcing from the Whitex factory, those two companies took leadership roles in assuring improvements there, including illegal recruitment fees and retaining passports. Primark commissioned an audit of the factory, and both helped make sure Whitex ended recruitment fees and stopped withholding passports...

Transparentem wrote that Nike had helped address recruitment fees and other problems at the Honsin factory, but it faulted Nike for not doing more at SP Garments and its Hing Yiap factory, which a Nike sublicensee had used. Nike insisted that it didn’t even use any of SP’s factories and that the sublicensee used the Hing Yiap without its authorization or knowledge. Nonetheless Nike said it had approached SP’s owner about making improvements...

Transparentem’s report also criticized Variety Wholesalers... for doing little to fix problems at Whitex, from which it had ordered garments through a middleman... Variety Wholesalers’ general counsel, said Variety has never purchased goods from Whitex, but did buy “a very limited amount of goods from a New York vendor”. Variety said it didn’t “decline” to participate in remediation efforts, but had worked with its vendor and Transparentem to correct problems.

Transparentem also criticized Wolverine Worldwide... saying... that Wolverine “should assess whether its auditing” procedures “are thorough enough to detect suppliers’ risks of using forced labor”. Wolverine responded that it takes “allegations of human rights violations” very seriously and said the factory has passed a “rigorous third-party audit” that didn’t find forced labor or other violations “claimed by Transparentem”...

Read the full post here

Related companies: Brooks Running (Brooks Sports, Inc.) Fruit of the Loom (part of Berkshire Hathaway) Honsin Apparel (part of Prolexus) Knit Textile Manufacturing Nike Perindustrian Shunhon Primark (part of Associated British Foods) SP Garments Target Tracksmith Variety Wholesalers Whitex Garments Wolverine World Wide