Reports of abuse at Chinese factories are so common as to hardly raise an eyebrow. A Longhua plant owned by Foxconn, the maker of almost all Apple devices, was dubbed the "suicide factory" after 16 workers jumped from its roof. Maltreatment at a designer clothing store, on the other hand, is more unexpected. But staff at at Gucci's flagship outlet in Shenzhen claim that abuse was so severe that two pregnant employees suffered miscarriages.
Five former Gucci workers wrote an open letter, published in a state-owned Chinese newspaper, stating that managers made them ask permission to go to the toilet or drink water, work 14-hour shifts without sitting down, and pay out-of-pocket for any stolen goods.
The employees said there were over 100 rules they had to follow and the company is a "flamboyant gown" that "hides a lot of lice."
The best-selling Italian fashion label issued a statement on Tuesday, claiming that they would not "endorse or tolerate the alleged malpractices." The company has replaced the allegedly abusive senior management and assistant store manager, and hired external consultants to review its business practices in the country where, according to its website, it has 42 stores,
The employees have requested 100,000 yuan, or almost $16,000, in unpaid wages, which Gucci reportedly has refused, while admitting that the store was mismanaged.
The complaints of these five employees is part of a worker empowerment trend in China. Workers at several factories, including a Honda Motor Co. parts plant, went on strike last year, demanding higher pay. Foxconn, in the face of ugly publicity, increased its wages by 30 percent.
The Chinese government has supported the shift, as a way to both allay worker unrest and reduce the economy's reliance on exports. One side effect of rapid development, it seems, is that workers grow less tolerant of the abuse that's enabled the development to be so rapid.
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