October 12th, 2011
08:37 AM GMT
Hong Kong (CNN) – Gucci stores in Shenzhen, China are facing allegations from former employees of operating as high-end “sweatshops,” according to reports earlier this week in China’s English-language newspapers, China Daily and Global Times.
In late September, five former employees released online an open letter to senior executives of the Italian designer brand, including claims of a draconian list of employment regulations such as time limitations on bathroom use and unpaid overtime extending past midnight.
A Gucci spokesperson told Chinese media, “Gucci does not and will not endorse or tolerate the alleged malpractices.”
Employees said they needed to seek permission for basic activities such as drinking water and bathroom breaks were limited to a maximum of five minutes.
They also complained of having to stand for more than 12 hours per day and work extensive overtime without compensation. While the official store closing time is 10:00 p.m., employees were required to stay as late as 3:00 a.m. to conduct inventory checks.
One of the five employees in the letter, surnamed He, told the Global Times, “Two of my former colleagues had to have abortions because we all had to stand so long each day.” The employee also spoke of other health consequences among staff: "Many of us ended up with various occupational diseases as a result of these inhuman rules. I have been suffering from stomach and urinary system illnesses."
The lawyer representing the five employees, Yang Qianwu, told the Global Times that each employee is demanding an average settlement of 100,000 yuan in overtime wages over their more than two years of employment.
In an e-mail statement to Chinese reporters Tuesday night, Ben Huang, Gucci’s Director of Marketing and Communications in China, said that Gucci is paying close attention to the recent media coverage and has conducted an investigation of the complaints. The company has also hired an external consultant to evaluate its store management in China.
Huang said Gucci has already taken a series of measures, including the dismissal of store managers involved in the situation. The company has also improved internal communications and training and will seek to continuously improve the working environment in its stores.
Xinhua reported that Gucci has asked its employees to refrain from commenting on the matter to the media.
According to China Daily, the case has also attracted the attention from the Shenzhen government. An official from the labor and human resources bureau from Luohu district has promised to investigate the case, while the deputy director of the Shenzhen Trade Union encouraged employees to report workplace abuses.
Chinese netizens have expressed outrage on the popular micro-blogging site Sina Weibo, criticizing lax government controls over workplace conditions.
User LiuSuorHuanHuan commented, “Why do large foreign enterprises always have problems when they enter China? …Chinese policies have too many loopholes that create opportunities for foreign investors to use them toward their advantage.” Another user, Sartorialist, wrote, “The main reason behind these blood factories of foreign companies in China is the lack of monitoring and excessive tolerating by local government.”
As China has become the ‘world’s factory’, worker complaints of sweatshop conditions to produce the goods and services of multi-national corporations are nothing new. The Global Times quoted a former manager at Gucci’s Beijing office saying that “mistreatment of employees is rife at all levels in the brand's mainland stores.” A user named MinGanCi sarcastically commented that “…Gucci management is truly aware of China’s customs—they have already localized their treatment of employees.”
- CNN's Nini Suet and Haolan Hong contributed to this report
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