Pay disputes and safety violations hampered some suppliers in 2015

Pay disputes and safety violations hampered some suppliers in 2015

Investments in new facilities, automation and technology, and worker training schemes paid dividends for some apparel suppliers in 2015, while others were hampered by pay disputes and safety violations.



After just a three-year collaboration, American clothing company PVH Corp named Sri Lanka's Brandix as its 'Global Supplier of the Year', at the company's biennial Global Supply Chain Summit in Thailand in May. There, PVH Corp recognised the supplier for breaking new ground for key brands such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Heritage Brands across multiple product categories. Brandix is one of the largest apparel suppliers to top brands in the US and Europe, with operations across Sri Lanka, a 1,000-acre industrial park in India and a large operation in Bangladesh.

Almeda Textile

Business is also booming for Almeda Textile, one of Ethiopia's largest vertically integrated textile companies and a supplier to Sweden's fast-fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M). The company is expected to invest US$7.5m over the next five to six years to increase the current capacity at its Adwa factory. This considerable investment should see the company producing up to 24,000 pieces of basic knitted T-shirts per day, with a spinning capacity of up to 100,000 kg per day and a weaving capacity of 32,000 metres per day.

Toray Industries

Meanwhile, Japanese textile manufacturer Toray Industries signed a new five-year strategic partnership with casual clothing brand Uniqlo in November that is expected to generate US$8.12bn in transactions over the next five years. Toray has 98 subsidiary companies in Japan and 155 companies overseas and has supplied state-of-the-art fabrics to Uniqlo since 1999, setting up dedicated factories to fill Uniqlo orders. The companies said they plan to improve the comfort and functionality of LifeWear clothing products and develop new sportswear.

Crystal Group

Hong Kong-based garment-making giant Crystal Group announced in November that it intends to roll out The Gap's PACE (Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement) programme to 40,000 female workers in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam over the next five years. The scheme's expansion follows a successful pilot that began three years ago at its Yida denim jeans factory in Zhongshan, China. Yida's facilities in Zhongshan and Jintan in China's Pearl River Delta make it the largest denim jeans producer in Asia, with 4,000 employees and customers including Levi Strauss, H&M, Gap, Wrangler, Lee and JC Penney.

Esquel Group

Emblematic of the current wave of Chinese manufacturing, the Hong-Kong based Esquel Group is set for another year of growth with automation and technology investments central to its business strategy. The company supplies more than 100m garments a year to brands including Hugo Boss, JCrew and Marks & Spencer and earned nearly US$1.4bn in sales last year, booking a tenth consecutive year of 6% growth. The company is investing more than US$313.9m to build a new facility in Guilin, Guangxi province that will include a research centre. Esquel's new spinning mill in Xinjiang, the company's major source of extra-long-staple cotton, has only 20 workers managing 10,000 spindles.


Lever Style

Ongoing pay disputes have done little to improve the corporate social responsibility image of Uniqlo supplier Hong Kong-based Lever Style Inc. Around 900 employees began striking in June at the company's Shenzhen Artigas Clothing & Leatherware factory over severance pay and relocation of the factory. Uniqlo's parent company Fast Retailing Co publicly urged the company in July to negotiate further with workers to 'align' their opinions and resolve the dispute. This follows a strike by almost 1,000 workers last year over unpaid social insurance and housing contributions at the same factory.

Swan Garment

Pay disputes have also seen more than 1,000 workers stage a protest at the Swan Garment and Swan Jeans factories in Bangladesh. Workers staged a sit-in protest over the "sudden and illegal closure" of the factories in April. According to the Netherlands-based Clean Clothes Campaign, workers were producing for Aldi, Piazza Italia and Motivi in the months prior to closure, but the company had begun experiencing difficulties in 2014, due to compliance changes following the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, when long-term buyers pulled their orders. In January 2015, the factory suddenly stopped paying salaries.

Sadaf Fashions

Such closures could become a more common consequence for Bangladesh factories in breach of new standards for workplace safety, as Chittagong-based garment supplier Sadaf Fashions discovered. The company was accused of serious violations of workplace safety under the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh following an April audit. When a follow-up inspection found corrective measures had not been implemented, the Accord instructed its 220 member signatories – including some of the world's biggest brands – to sever all business relations with the company. Sadaf Fashions is the Accord's third 'terminated supplier'.

SF Leather

Accusations of inaction were flying after it took nine months to resolve an industrial dispute at Mulberry's Turkish handbag manufacturer SF Leather. The luxury British brand was urged to intervene after the factory management sacked 14 workers for joining an affiliate of global union IndustriAll in March. The factory had agreed to reinstate 11 of the 14 workers on the condition they did not unionise, but management eventually gave in to pressure and workers were reinstated in October when an agreement was reached about union organisation within the company; 90% of SF Leather's production is for Mulberry.


German brand Puma found itself embroiled in a confusing high profile dispute when workers at one of its supplier factories in Cambodia began industrial action in July. Contract terms and severance pay were at the heart of the workers' dispute with the Akeentex apparel factory, and although the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered workers back to work, they refused. Puma released a statement saying that the factory was following the law and Puma's own code of conduct but striking workers urged the brand to intervene in the dispute.

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