Myanmar: Time for fashion brands to exit?

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Fashion brands should urgently consider moving production out of Myanmar if they cannot guarantee protection for garment workers in the country’s factories, says a new report.

Workers are facing a flood of labor and human rights abuses following the military takeover in February 2021, according to the Resistance, harassment and intimidation: Garment worker abuse under Myanmar’s military rule report published today by the Business & Human Rights Resource Center (BHRC), a global NGO with offices in London and New York.

The BHRC developed a Myanmar Garment Worker Allegations Tracker, which documents more than 100 cases of labor and human rights violations involving at least 60,800 garment workers. They include 55 cases of reduced wages and wage theft; 35 cases of abusive work rates and mandatory overtime; 28 cases of gender-based violence and harassment; 15 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of workers; and reports of seven garment workers killed by the military. There have been 31 attacks against freedom of association, with at least 55 trade union activists killed and 301 union leaders and members of the labor movement arrested.

BHRC head of labor rights Alysha Khambay said the time for action has come. “Brands must wake up to the harsh reality that decent working conditions no longer exist in Myanmar,” she said in a statement. “Continuing business as usual is no longer helping to ‘protect jobs and workers’, as has been repeatedly claimed.”

Allegations were listed against 70 factories supplying at least 32 global fashion brands and retailers including Adidas, Moschino, Guess, Fast Retailing (which owns Uniqlo and Helmut Lang), H&M and Inditex.

“Adidas monitors the situation in Myanmar closely and is fully engaged with its suppliers, to ensure that the rights of workers in the supply chain are upheld,” a spokesperson for the brand told Vogue Business. “We continue to enforce compliance with our standards through due diligence activities including on-site inspections. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, Adidas has also increased the health and safety requirements for its suppliers according to the WHO. [World Health Organization] Covid guidance.”

H&M and Inditex declined to comment Vogue Business. The other brands contacted did not respond by the time of publishing, although in a statement supplied to the BHRC Moschino says it expects suppliers to respect human rights and comply with international human rights and labor standards.

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