Blog: Leonie BarrieBurma ban offers no quick fix

Leonie Barrie | 15 July 2003

Such is the success of the US lobby to dissuade retailers from sourcing their apparel in Myanmar that hundreds of thousands of garment workers are now petitioning the American government not to ban their country’s imports.

Their sense of urgency is heightened by the fact that the US Congress is in the process of approving legislation calling for tough economic sanctions against the military government in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Drastic as it is, this action would shore up the fierce campaign being waged by anti-Burma activists which has already ‘persuaded’ companies like May Department Stores, Mother's Work, Burlington Coat Factory, Federated Department Stores and Wal-Mart to boycott products from a country accused of gross human rights violations.

But once again it seems the clothing industry is caught up in the debate on ethics versus commerce, with a little political banter thrown in for good measure.

The US ban would have a dramatic effect on Myanmar’s export earnings – most of which come from garment revenues. But as is so often the case, the real casualties are likely to be the workers themselves. They might be poorly paid and work in conditions that fall far short of basic human and labour rights, but their alternatives might be even worse.

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