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H&M rocked by abuse claims at Myanmar factory claims: Pressure on firm to follow rivals and quit country


H&M rocked by claims of abuse in Myanmar factory claims: Pressure on company to follow rivals and leave country

H&M has said it will investigate 20 alleged cases of abuse at its Myanmar garment factories as pressure mounts on Western brands to leave the region.

The world’s second-biggest fashion retailer said it was investigating cases highlighted in a damning report by a leading human rights group.

Now the pressure is mounting on H&M to follow in the footsteps of the owner of Zara, Inditex, Primark and Marks & Spencer, and dump the Myanmar suppliers.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC) tracked 156 cases of suspected workplace abuses between February 2022 and February 2023, up from 56 the previous year. The claims included reduced wages, unfair dismissal and workplace harassment.

Reduced wages are the most common rights violation since the military coup in Myanmar in 2021.

Commitment: H&M said it was investigating 20 alleged cases of abuse at its Myanmar garment factories highlighted in a damning report by a leading human rights group

Pay abuses were found in more than half of the complaints and affected at least 82,000 workers, the British human rights body said.

While H&M had 20 supplier-linked cases, Inditex, the world’s largest retailer, had 21.

H&M said: “We are deeply concerned by the latest developments in Myanmar, and see increased challenges in conducting our operations in accordance with our standards and requirements.”

Inditex, which owns brands including Bershka and Zara, said last month it was phasing out products from Myanmar due to the political and humanitarian crisis there.

This followed Primark and Marks & Spencer, who said they planned to move away from Myanmar suppliers last year.

M&S said it did not “tolerate any human rights abuses anywhere in our supply chain”, while Primark said it was working on a “responsible exit”.

Activists said H&M should do the same. Anna Bryher of Labor Behind the Label said: “Any brand doing business in Myanmar should know that abuse is rife.

‘The military enters the factories to repress pro-democracy activists. Wage violations, forced overtime, and gender-based violence are common.

‘At what point do “fashion brands supporting jobs in a threatened economy” become “fashion brands profiting from mass abuse of workers and evasion of civil liberties”? H&M needs to do a lot more or, responsibly, get out.”

H&M declined to comment on whether it would stop buying clothes from Myanmar.

Many foreign companies immediately cut ties after the military junta took control.

But the retail giants are an outlier, with Lidl, Matalan and Next importing products from the region.

Despite the fact that the sector has contracted since 2021, the garment industry remains one of Myanmar’s largest employers, accounting for more than 30 percent of total exports.

There are an estimated 500 factories producing clothing and shoes for big brands in the Southeast Asian country.

Some groups have accused employers in Myanmar of taking advantage of the uncertainty in the country to disenfranchise workers.

The BHRRC investigation found that Primark and M&S respectively had 19 and three charges against them.

But despite the alleged abuses, there are also challenges with trading giants shutting down.

“If they leave, jobs are gone entirely or factories are rushed to take orders from purchasing agents who only care about cheap labor and don’t care about factory conditions,” said Vicky Bowman, Former UK Ambassador to Myanmar and Director of the Myanmar Centre. by the Responsible Company.

And Europe’s position is that companies should continue to source from Myanmar, as long as they do so responsibly.

Karina Ufert, executive director of the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, an independent group representing brands, said that “the withdrawal of responsible brands will only lead to a further deterioration of the workers’ rights situation and contribute to higher unemployment.”

The Clean Clothes Campaign advocacy group said brands that continue to source products from Myanmar must “carry out continued and increased due diligence.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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