labor rights code of conduct. Most say they guarantee that suppliers will pay workers their legally mandated benefits. But in some cases, factory owners can go into hiding or refuse to pay fired employees. In others, owners claim that exploitative contracts brought them to bankruptcy or made it impossible for them to reserve funds for severance.

code of conduct included checks to ensure workers received what was owed to them after factory closures or layoffs. The company did not respond to any questions about missing severance payments by A-One.

When contacted by The New York Times about wage theft at factories, most brands downplayed their relationships, even though corporate codes of conduct do not specify that responsibilities to workers are proportionate to their order size.

Ms. Yi was one of 774 workers who were laid off in June from Hana I, a factory in Cambodia that supplied Walmart and Zara. The workers are owed more than $1 million in severance, the report estimates. Although she received an initial $500, Ms. Yi, 33, was still owed $1,290 in severance and was still unemployed as of this month.

Inditex, the parent company of Zara, said it had not worked with the factory for five years. Walmart said it believed the factory had paid all the severance it legally owed to workers in June. The factory owners did not respond to requests for comment via email.

“We are saddened by the unfortunate financial hardship that has occurred for many businesses due to the pandemic and are particularly concerned about the impact it has on their employees,” a Walmart spokeswoman said. She noted that the company made efforts to “review and hold suppliers accountable for compliance” with its standards and local laws.

Hulu Garment factory in Phnom Penh, a former supplier for Walmart, Amazon, Macy’s and Adidas, owes 1,000 former workers $3.63 million, according to the report.

Adidas said it had used the company only for small orders. The owners of Hulu did not respond to a request for comment.

Of all the companies approached by The Times, only Gap, which placed orders with factories cited in the report in Indonesia, Cambodia, India and Jordan, specifically said it had investigated allegations made in the report.

“In all cases we either confirmed that severance had been provided or remediated any that were outstanding,” a Gap spokeswoman said, adding that the company would investigate any further evidence of severance not being paid out.

As consumers put pressure on companies to make amends and clean up their supply chains, brands “are shrinking their supplier bases,” Ms. LeBaron said.

“That could well produce long-term benefits, but it will mean further disruption, closures and layoffs,” she said. “And that means the severance dilemma is going to become even more common.”

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Global Brands Find It Hard to Untangle Themselves From Xinjiang Cotton

Faced with accusations that it was profiting from the forced labor of Uyghur people in the Chinese territory of Xinjiang, the H&M Group — the world’s second-largest clothing retailer — promised last year to stop buying cotton from the region.

But last month, H&M confronted a new outcry, this time from Chinese consumers who seized on the company’s renouncement of the cotton as an attack on China. Social media filled with angry demands for a boycott, urged on by the government. Global brands like H&M risked alienating a country of 1.4 billion people.

The furor underscored how international clothing brands relying on Chinese materials and factories now face the mother of all conundrums — a conflict vastly more complex than their now-familiar reputational crises over exploitative working conditions in poor countries.

ban on imports. Labor activists will charge them with complicity in the grotesque repression of the Uyghurs.

Myanmar and Bangladesh, where cheap costs of production reflect alarming safety conditions.

genocide. As many as a million Uyghurs have been herded into detention camps, and deployed as forced labor.

Uzbekistan.

As China has transformed itself from an impoverished country into the world’s second-largest economy, it has leaned on the textile and apparel industries. China has courted foreign companies with the promise of low-wage workers operating free from the intrusions of unions.

regional government said last year.

statement reported by Reuters.

That assertion flew in the face of a growing body of literature, including a recent statement from the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing “serious concerns” about reports of forced labor.

The Better Cotton Initiative declined a request for an interview to discuss how it had come to its conclusion.

“We are a not-for-profit organization with a small team,” the initiative’s communications manager, Joe Woodruff, said in an email.

The body’s membership includes some of the world’s largest, most profitable clothing manufacturers and retailers — among them Inditex, the Spanish conglomerate that owns Zara, and Nike, whose sales last year exceeded $37 billion.

Trump administration furthered the trend by pressuring American multinational companies to abandon China.

“All of the economic forces that pushed this production to China are really no longer at work,” said Pietra Rivoli, a trade expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

Still, China retains attributes not easily replicated — the world’s largest ports, plus a cluster of related industries, from chemicals to plastics.

Cambodia in response to its government’s harsh crackdown on dissent.

Some global brands are seeking Beijing’s permission to import more cotton into China from the United States and Australia. They could employ that cotton to make products destined for Europe and North America, while using the Xinjiang crop for the Chinese market.

Yet that approach may leave the apparel companies exposed to the same risks they face now.

“If the brand is labeled as ‘They are still using forced labor, but they are just using it for the Chinese market,’ is this going to suffice?” said Ms. Collinson, the industry lobbyist.

Last week, H&M issued a new communication, beseeching Chinese consumers to return. “We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges,” said the statement, which did not mention Xinjiang. “China is a very important market to us.”

Those words appear to have satisfied no one — not the human rights organizations skeptical of claims that apparel companies have severed links to Xinjiang; not Chinese consumers angry over a perceived national indignity.

On Chinese social media, criticism of H&M remained fierce.

“For you, China is still an important market,” one post declared. “But for China, you are just an unnecessary brand.”

Joy Dong, Liu Yi and Chris Buckley contributed.

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