Lululemon investigating after report alleges abuses at Bangladesh factory

Lululemon Athletica Inc. said Tuesday it's investigating a factory in Bangladesh over the treatment of female workers making its clothes.

Vancouver company says currently no orders planned from factory, which is owned by Korean firm

A spokesperson for Lululemon Athletica said the company will work with an independent third-party investigator to find out more information regarding the allegations at the Chittagong factory in Bangladesh. (Steven Senne/The Associated Press)

Lululemon Athletica Inc. said Tuesday it's investigating a factory in Bangladesh over the treatment of female workers making its clothes.

Factory workers said they were verbally abused, beaten, forced to work overtime and paid the equivalent of $140 Cdn a month, according to an investigation by the Guardian newspaper.

The national minimum wage in the South Asian country was increased to the equivalent of $160 Cdn a month last year, but workers' unions had demanded about twice as much — 16,000 taka ($250 Cdn).

The rights of workers in Bangladesh, a global manufacturing hub, have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, particularly since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people.

"Members of Lululemon's social responsibility and production team visited the factory in Bangladesh immediately to speak with workers and learn more," a spokesperson for the Vancouver-based company told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

"We will work with an independent non-profit third party to fully investigate the matter. While our production at this factory is extremely limited, we will ensure workers are protected from any form of abuse and are treated fairly."

The company added that there were currently no orders planned from this factory in Chittagong, about 260 kilometres southeast of the capital Dhaka.

Bangladesh trade association criticizes report

The factory owner was named as Korean-based company Youngone Corp., which did not respond to emails from the Thomson Reuters Foundation requesting comment.

But Youngone told the Guardian that it had started an internal review regarding the matter, and employees were encouraged to share opinions or launch complaints through various channels.

Bangladesh — the second largest supplier of clothes to Western countries after China — relies on the garment industry for more than 80 per cent of exports and four million jobs, with big brands under pressure to ensure products are responsibly sourced.

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Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a trade organization of garment manufacturers, criticized the investigation for trying to "tarnish" the country's image.

"The report did not make it clear about how many workers it interrogated," Huq told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The truth, correctness and credibility of the information provided by the workers [respondents] was not verified, which makes the report flawed."