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Myanmar's garment workers face abuse and harassment under military rule

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Image: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre website

At least 60,800 garment workers in Myanmar have experienced alleged labour and human rights abuses according to a report by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRC).

Since February, when a military coup illegally gained power, Myanmar’s garment workers, of which 90 percent are women, are at the front lines of the country’s civil problems under new miliary rule.

Many organisations are calling for fashion companies to pull out of Myanmar, taking production to other countries where worker safety can be guaranteed.

Currently nearly 25 million people worldwide are victims of forced labour every year, with more than 60 percent of them exploited in the private sector, figures from the BHRC show. Retailer giant Inditex, which houses production for its brands Zara and Bershka, has at least 9 allegations of abuse. H&M has 6, Lidl and Bestseller each 8. These labour abuses can be anything from wage theft to harassment and violence.

These include wage theft, gender-based violence and harassment, inhumane work rates and mandatory overtime. Popular brands and retailers such as Inditex (Zara & Bershka, at least 9 allegations), Lidl (8 allegations), H&M (6 allegations) and Bestseller (9 allegations) were among those linked to the most abuse allegations.

Over 100 cases tracked across 70 factories

The BHRC said its monitoring tracker has captured over 100 cases of abuse across 70 factories. These factories produce garments 32 global brands and retailers, including adidas, Bestseller, C&A, Inditex, Fast Retailing, Guess, H&M, Lidl, Next, Matalan and Primark.

Myanmar’s garment workers are earning less than 2 dollars per day, sewing the clothes for the world’s most profitable brands. The BHRC states in its report: “In these circumstances, apparel brands must remember inaction is not an option: at a minimum, they must undertake heightened, ongoing human rights due diligence to determine whether they are able to responsibly source from Myanmar suppliers; where they are not, responsible exit strategies should be considered to abide by the international standards brands have adopted.”

garment workers
Human rights