The president of a company in Minami-Oguni, Kumamoto, supplies products to Wacoal Holding Group and talks to a Vietnamese intern at his factory in August. (Odagi)

After the Ministry of Economic Affairs ordered the textile industry to address the issue of exploitation, the main underwear manufacturer, Wacoal Holdings, was investigating whether its suppliers were suspected of violating the human rights of foreign technology interns working in their factories.

The survey, launched this summer, pointed out in an allegation made this spring that suppliers of a group company of the Huage Group did not pay the full salary of the trainees.

In the domestic manufacturing industry, there have been examples of abuse of technical interns, including not paying wages. The Ministry of Economic Affairs said in June that such behavior is particularly rampant in the textile industry and requires industry organizations to require their member companies and suppliers to comply with laws governing the treatment of their workers.

The investigation by Wacoal Holdings is considered to be the first such survey among its competitors, marking a new concern for human rights.

In addition to group companies, Japanese companies seldom work to protect the rights of foreign citizens working for suppliers.

A Kyoto-based manufacturer said that if evidence of wrongdoing is discovered, such as not paying wages, it will tell the supplier to resolve the situation immediately.

If they did not respond accordingly, Wacoal Holdings said it would review their business arrangements with them.

In the growing criticism of technical internship training programs in Japan and abroad, Wacoal Holdings is clearly worried that if it is seen as ignoring human rights, its corporate image will be affected.

The survey was initiated by Wacoal Corp. and Lecien Corp., two of Wacoal’s holdings, and is believed to be copied by other companies.

Among the 60 factories in Japan, the products are produced under the major brands of Wacoal and Yongan and supplied to the Wacoal Holding Group. About 40 are employed by foreigners.

A total of 538 technical interns from overseas work in 40 factories, 32 of which have no capital relationship with Wacoal Holding Group.

The investigation involved Wacoal’s employees and other staff visiting 40 factories to investigate about 25 issues, including whether the factory was urged by the Labor Standards Inspection Office to improve their working conditions over the past three years.

Other issues being examined are whether the factory has objective records, such as time cards, working hours of technical interns, and whether the factory meets the minimum wage requirements set by law.

The factory must prepare about 30 documents, including employment contracts for technical intern trainees, and notices of working conditions. The report on the inspection results is prepared by the organization that sent the trainees to the factory and is also under review.

“(Investigation) is designed to give factory managers an increased awareness of the human rights of trainees,” said an official at Wacoal Holdings.

The survey is scheduled to be completed by the end of the fiscal year in March 2019.

“People’s trust in the brand is more fragile than expected. It is necessary to acknowledge the risk of accepting a company that hires a technical intern as a supplier,” Wacoal’s public relations official said.