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Fast Retailing to name suppliers, allaying labor concerns

Japanese fast-fashion seller appealing to the socially conscious

A sewing plant in Bangladesh, one country where Fast Retailing makes clothing.

TOKYO -- Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing will release information on its contract clothing manufacturers in such places as China and Bangladesh, appealing to shoppers concerned about labor conditions in those countries.

A list of contractors is being drawn up, President Tadashi Yanai told The Nikkei, saying he would like to make it public soon. The specific content and the means of disclosure remain undecided, but the list could come out as early as 2017. Other Japanese apparel makers will likely follow the market leader's example.

Companies here have traditionally been slow to identify suppliers, lest rivals snag plants with particularly advanced technology. There have also been concerns that leaked product data could impair competitiveness.

Fast Retailing's clothing is produced by contract manufacturers around the world, many located in emerging Asia. Human rights groups have urged the apparel maker to name contractors in light of oppressive labor conditions uncovered at plants in developing nations. The company has apparently agreed amid the changing tide of public opinion.

Shopping virtuously

Making the contractor list public will help the company show that it takes oversight of labor conditions at partners seriously. Fast Retailing already monitors factories periodically. Around 500 sewing plants, materials makers and other partners were checked in fiscal 2015, resulting in ties being cut with certain offenders, the company has said. Nonprofit monitors, meanwhile, will have an easier time looking out for such issues as overwork.

Sewing plants will also be able to speak about their affiliation with Fast Retailing once the list goes public.

Trends toward ethical consumption are pushing companies worldwide to expand this sort of disclosure. Products made under demonstrably fair labor conditions can get certified as such -- a big draw for socially conscious consumers. More shoppers are also flocking to foods produced in an environmentally friendly manner as a convenient way to do social good.


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