Fashion companies are often criticized rely on low-paid workers in some of the poorest countries in the world to make their clothes. In Myanmar, they now have the opportunity to use their presence in the country as a force for good.
On February 1, Myanmar’s military took control of the government after voters in recent elections strongly supported the popular leadership party and tarnished democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Since coming to power in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi has maintain a subtle peace with the military, which ruled Myanmar for decades before finally starting ease his grip in 2010. Protesters denounced the coup fill the streets, opposing the growing violent response of the military, which has been killed dozens of civilians.
Among that leading the general strike are workers from the fast growing garment industry in Myanmar. Clothing exports have become important to the country’s economy, totaling more than $ 5 billion in 2019, according to World Trade Organization data, and taking into account more than 30% of total exports. This situation provides fashion companies seeking resources in the country with significant collective influence, and the opportunity to use them in positive ways.
Clothing companies have flocked to Myanmar in recent years because of low wages favorable trade relationship with the European Union. Swedish H&M List 42 manufacturing plants in that country on the published supplier list. Primark in the UK is sourced from 21 factories in the country, and Next, also from the UK, bought from 40 factories (pdf). Fast Retailing, the holding company of Uniqlo Japan, list of six factories (pdf) in Myanmar among its suppliers. Most of the clothes left the country went to Europe, Japan and the US.
How fashion companies can support workers in Myanmar
These businesses can use their influence in a number of ways. One of the most important is stating publicly that they will not accept workers at supply factories who are fired or disciplined for joining pro-democracy protests. labor union already asked For this move, it said members could face intimidation and threats such as dismissal or pay cuts, even if they used vacation leave for leave. “This is the time for brands to help Myanmar workers, because workers and our country need democracy,” Ma Moe Sandar Myint, chairman of the Myanmar Garment Workers Federation, said Vogue Business (paywall).
Trade associations representing international fashion companies have called on the military to restore civilian rule and release detained officials. A joint statement by the Ethical Trade Initiative, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the Fair Labor Association and other groups also outlines the steps individual companies should take. This includes cutting ties with businesses directly or indirectly controlled by the Myanmar military, working with suppliers to ensure workers are safe and financially secure, making concessions to suppliers on contracts or shipping terms because of all disruption in the country, and having direct dialogue. with trade unions and workers’ representatives.
International fashion companies generally don’t have much to say so far about how they respond Reuters reported today H&M temporarily suspended new orders in the country. An H&M manager in Myanmar said the company had not made a long-term decision and had temporarily suspended orders “due to practical difficulties and unpredictable situations” that have caused problems importing raw materials and transporting finished garments.
Meanwhile the crisis continues to increase. If there is a time for companies to step up, now is the time.
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