The Shenzhen clothing factory for Uniqlo has clearly broken workers’ trust by allowing police to arrest workers on the day of negotiation.

Artigas workers trying to prevent the riot police from entering the factory on 18 December, the day of the scheduled collective bargaining

Artigas workers trying to prevent the riot police from entering the factory on 18 December, the day of the scheduled collective bargaining

Over 20 workers remain detained after around 1,000 workers at the Shenzhen-based Artigas Clothing & leatherwear factory staged a week-long strike demanding the factory to pay workers’ legal social insurance.

These detained workers were told they could be released from the police station provided they signed a letter agreeing not to defend their rights any more. Workers however remained united and all refused to sign the letter.

The workers’ weibo account, Artigas Workers Defending Rights, posted photos of the determined workers in the victory pose at the police station, unhindered by the police violence. On the day of their arrest, many workers were allegedly stunned by the specially armed police.

The strike erupted on 10 December, after workers, many of whom have been working for Artigas for one or two decades, found the factory only started paying their social insurance since 2003, which means they couldn’t fully enjoy their retirement benefits.

Early Decembers, workers issued a joint letter requesting the factory to respond to their demands of paying workers’ full amount of social insurance and housing subsidy, but the factory chose to turn a cold shoulder towards workers’ demands. To give pressure to the factory, workers started strike and blocked the products delivery at the factory gate.

On 15 December, workers’ lawyers issued a collective bargaining invitation letter to the factory lawyers. Both sides agreed to conduct the first negotiation on 18 December.

What took workers by surprise was in the morning of 18 December, workers were suddenly surrounded by hundreds of riot and military police, who were there to assist the factory to make goods delivery. Many workers got detained.

Police outside the Artigas factory

Police outside the Artigas factory

Shortly after the police violence, workers issued a condemnation letter on weibo, denouncing the factory for breaking workers’ trust:

“The proper way to address labour disputes is through collective bargaining. But our employer has allied with the government to arrest workers at the presence of the lawyers of both sides. The employer’s move has completely ruined the trust of this negation and escalated the conflict, which is not conductive to social harmony!”

Workers at the same time call for social support to help restrain the violence of the factory and of the local government, and for the immediate release of the detained workers. Workers also urged the international community to join them to bring pressure to the clothing brands, the municipal government and the municipal trade union.

Artigas is the supplier for the Japanese casual wear brand Uniqlo, and Hong Kong’s fast fashion brand G2000. This Wednesday (17 December), labour rights groups in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and SACOM, went to protest in front of the stores of Uniqlo and G2000. They pressed the brands to perform their corporate social responsibility, and work with the factory to negotiate with workers’ representatives as soon as possible.

USi will continue to track Artigas workers’ fight for the rights and benefits they deserve.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Jennifer Zhang

Jennifer Zhang is USi’s China coordinator based in Hong Kong.

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