Jin Shun Incorporated, a Queens-based garment contractor for some of the top US retail brands, has been accused of a range of labour law violations by New York State officials - including withholding $5.5m in unpaid wages.

The New York State Department of Labor released the findings yesterday (23 July), saying that Jin Shun had also provided employees with mock question-and-answer sheets to memorise and use in response to investigators' questions.

Its probe allegedly found that employees there had worked "twelve-hour days, six to seven days a week, and were paid on a piece-rate basis".

Representatives from Jin Shun, which produces women's garments for retailers including Gap Inc, Limited Brands, Macy's and Coldwater Creek, could not be reached for comment when contacted by just-style today (24 July).

However, a statement forwarded to just-style by Gap said: "Gap Inc is committed to doing business in a socially responsible way and we take this matter extremely seriously.

"We appreciate the New York Department of Labor bringing this to our attention and we plan to fully cooperate with authorities to ensure the workers are treated fairly."

The retailer, whose Gap and Banana Republic brands had been made at the factory, said it currently has no production there - and added it is suspending any future production at the plant until the investigation is satisfactorily resolved.

Meanwhile, Limited Brands told just-style: "I can assure you that our primary concern in a situation like this is the well-being of the workers involved.

"Limited Brands holds its employees, suppliers and vendors strictly accountable for compliance with all applicable laws and our own business policies, including those relating to labour standards."

Macy's and Coldwater Creek spokespeople were unavailable to immediately comment on the reports.

New York State Labor Commissioner M Patricia Smith said: "This factory paid sweatshop wages, kept fake records, and coached employees to lie, even though it had signed retailer codes of conduct to comply with the law.

"The Department of Labor will use all legal tools to stop this mistreatment of workers."

Commissioner Smith said that the department was referring the case to the Queens District Attorney's office for review for possible criminal charges.

Jin Shun, located at 47-51 33rd Street in Long Island City, on the outskirts of Manhattan, and its owners, Jikai Lin and Zhang Yun Chen, were accused of underpaying 100 workers out of nearly $3m in minimum and overtime wages since 2005.

Furthermore, the department said that prior to 2005 the factory operated under the name Venture 47, and underpaid $2.5m in minimum and overtime wages.

The state labour department has "tagged" 10,000 items of clothing made by the factory, affixing labels to the garments saying they were unlawfully manufactured.

New York State has enforced 37% more minimum wage underpayments in 2007 compared to prior years.

Gap Inc, meanwhile, told just-style it conducted approximately 4,000 inspections - including unannounced inspections - of 1,879 global factories last year.

By Joe Ayling, news editor.