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TOKYO – Fast Retailing, owner of Japan’s largest fashion brand, Uniqlo, has announced a new global partnership with UN Women which it says will champion women’s rights and empowerment in the apparel industry. The partnership includes an investment from Fast Retailing of USD$1.6m over two years (2019-2021) to jointly implement a programme for female workers in garment factories in Asia, the company’s main production hub. The partnership also comprises a management training programme to boost diversity at the company.

The partnership is particularly interesting given that Uniqlo has been at the centre of several undercover investigations in recent years which have found serious worker violations – of women – at its Chinese supplier factories. The company also continues to remains at loggerheads with a group of labour rights NGOs about its refusal to compensate female Indonesian workers who were left owed wages and severance payments when their employer – a former Uniqlo supplier factory – went bust.

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In its first year, the partnership will target partner factories in Bangladesh, China and Vietnam, to identify specific local gender-based challenges that female factory workers face. Responding to the findings, a support program will be developed to provide specialized training for female workers selected from 200 partner factories in the three countries.

Announcing the new partnership, Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and CEO, Fast Retailing Co said: “Fast Retailing is committed to ensure that all women who are main players in our business can fully demonstrate their abilities. This is essential for the sustainable growth of the entire supply chain, as well as to continue to offer products that meet customer expectations.

“Through our joint project with UN Women, we aim to create an enabling environment for all women in our business and those in our company to play an active role in society.”

“Women comprise the majority of workers in the garment sector, but too often they are segregated into lower paying jobs that offer little chance for advancement. This new partnership with Fast Retailing is a chance to change that,” added UN women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “By focusing on women’s economic empowerment and providing women workers with access to specialized training and capacity-building, we are together taking a critical step to galvanize change in the garment industry.”
The joint project focuses on three areas: These include capacity building for mid-career female workers in support of their career progression, by providing specialized leadership training to reach leadership positions;

The second area is providing opportunities for female workers to acquire new skills including those responding to trends in the area of automation;

The final area is raising awareness of the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment among men in decision-making positions, to create enabling environments for career progression of female workers.

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