Italian fashion house Gucci has declared it will strengthen control over its suppliers after an investigative programme was broadcast revealing Chinese employees to be working for as long as 14 hours a day.
Italy’s national public broadcasting company, RAI State Television, brought to light that employees of Eastern Asian descent are working more than three times their official hours in order to assemble Gucci’s luxury handbags.
Sold to Gucci for €24 euros each (around $28.09) despite a retail rate of $1000, Aroldo Guidotti of the subcontractor, leather goods specialist Mondo Libero, was filmed discussing the cost saving strategy of replacing Italian workers with Chinese nationals, who are hired as part-time employees, and yet work more hours than those on a full-time contract.
Owned by Kering, Gucci claimed that the report wrongly compared the final price of a bag with the cost of assembling it, leaving out the cost of raw materials or the cutting, packaging and shipping expenses necessary. The lux label argued that “hidden and inappropriately used cameras, shooting carefully selected supplier companies (3 out of a total 576), do not provide for a true or accurate representation of Gucci and its supply chain policies and procedures.”
Campaigning against long hours and low wages, the number of labour disputes in China has risen in recent years, with the ethical issues surrounding clothing production becoming more significant than ever. Often referred to as the factory of the world, China’s industrial economy relies on migrant workers, more than 36% of which live on less than $2 a day, while enduring poor working conditions such as forced overtime, denial of security rights and severe health risks.
With additional claims that staff in Gucci’s flagship China store were forced to work extra hours unpaid, pay for stolen items and not be permitted to sit once during a 14 hour shift, five former employees wrote an open letter to Chinese newspaper Global Times, describing the company as a “flamboyant gown” that “hides a lot of lice.”
It is questionable as to whether or not such conditions are a failure of the brand at large or China’s work ethic as a whole.
Reporting that Gucci’s sales have slipped 1.6% in the latest third quarter, Kering ousted the Chief Executive and Creative Director of the label earlier this month due to falling sales, in an attempt to revitalise the brand’s appeal amid increasing competition. With the head of Gucci subcontractor stating that he was aware of irregularly employing Chinese workers however, claims of unethical working conditions could threaten to damage the fashion brand’s reputation.