Photo/IllutrationThe president of a company in Minami-Oguni, Kumamoto Prefecture, that supplies products to Wacoal Holdings Corp. group, talks to a Vietnamese trainee in its factory in August. (Makoto Oda)

Major lingerie maker Wacoal Holdings Corp. is investigating its suppliers for suspected human rights violations of foreign technical intern trainees working in their factories after the economy ministry ordered the textiles industry to tackle exploitation.

The investigation, launched in the summer, follows an allegation made in spring this year that a supplier to one of Wacoal Holdings’ group companies had not been paying all the wages due to trainees.

Examples of maltreatment of technical intern trainees, including non-payment of wages, have emerged in succession in domestic manufacturing industries. The economy ministry said in June that such acts are especially rampant in the textiles world, and required industry organizations to demand that their member companies and suppliers adhere to the law regarding their treatment of workers.

Wacoal Holdings’ investigation, believed to be the first of its kind conducted among its competitors, signals a new focus on human rights.

It is rare for a Japanese company to make efforts to protect the rights of foreign nationals working for its suppliers in addition to its group companies.

The Kyoto-based manufacturer said if it finds evidence of wrongdoing, such as non-payment of wages, it will tell suppliers to address the situation immediately.

If they do not respond accordingly, Wacoal Holdings said it will review its business arrangements with them.

Amid growing criticism in and outside Japan against the technical intern training program, Wacoal Holdings apparently fears that its corporate image will suffer if it is seen to be disregarding human rights.

The investigation was started by Wacoal Holdings’ two subsidiaries, Wacoal Corp. and Lecien Corp., and it is thought the move could be replicated by other firms.

Of 60 factories in Japan that manufacture products under the major brand names of Wacoal and Wing and supply them to Wacoal Holdings group, about 40 are subject to the investigation, as they employ foreigners.

A total of 538 technical intern trainees from overseas are working in the 40 factories, 32 of which have no capital relations with the Wacoal Holdings group companies.

The investigation involves Wacoal Holdings employees and others visiting the 40 factories to look into about 25 issues, including whether the factories have been urged by labor standards inspection offices to improve their working conditions over the past three years.

Other issues being checked are whether the factories have objective records, such as time cards, on technical intern trainees’ working hours, and whether the factories are meeting the legally stipulated minimum wage requirements.

The factories have to prepare about 30 documents, including employment contracts for technical intern trainees, and notices on working conditions. Reports on the results of the inspections, written by agencies that dispatch trainees to the factories, are also being scrutinized.

“(The investigation) is aimed to have executives at the factories heighten awareness about human rights of the trainees,” said an official of Wacoal Holdings.

The investigation is scheduled to finish before the end of this fiscal year in March 2019.

“People’s trust of brands is more fragile than anticipated. It is necessary to recognize the risk of accepting companies that are employing technical intern trainees as suppliers,” said a Wacoal Holdings public relations official.