Gucci has replaced senior managers at its flagship store in Shenzhen, China, after former staff accused the luxury house of sweatshop-like abuse. In an open letter in the Global Times, one of China’s English-language newspapers, five ex-employees claimed to have endured abuse so severe that they suffered from stomach and urinary illnesses, even miscarriages, under the strain. “It was a kind of torture for us to stand for more than 14 hours every day,” they said in the letter. “Short rest, water, or food was abandoned even for a pregnant employee.”

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Luxury retail may sound like an enviable job, but not so at this Gucci location. Besides describing the brand as a “flamboyant gown” that “hides a lot of lice,” the former workers also claim a list of harsh and inappropriate rules—a whopping 100 in all—including having to ask permission before drinking water or using the restroom, a five-minute cap on toilet breaks, and staying past 3 a.m. tallying inventory. The letter alleges that workers were also made to pay for any stolen items in the shop. When they asked for staff-discount cards, they were told they were “too poor to afford Gucci,” said a female employee surnamed He, one of the letter’s authors.

Former employees claim they had to ask for permission before drinking water or using the restroom.

A statement from Gucci said that it has conducted “thorough investigations” and taken a series of measures, including replacing the concerned senior management and assistant store manager, strengthening store-management training programs, and hiring external consultants to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the well-being of its Chinese staff.

The allegations are surprising, to say the least. Inhumane worker treatment is almost par for the course for mass-market brands, but Gucci is run by PPR Group, a French conglomerate that also owns Stella McCartney, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Puma.

Yang Qianwu, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told the Global Times that preliminary evidence has been collected for arbitration and each of the former employees is demanding an average of 100,000 yuan ($15,500) in back pay. “Such acts will undermine the image of Gucci, a renowned luxury brand,” Yang said.

[Via CNN and AFP]