Apparel industry associations and human rights groups have joined forces to condemn the military coup and growing violence in Myanmar, and to urge companies sourcing from the southeast Asian country to maintain dialogue and honour all existing commitments made to factories. 

In an open letter, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, and organisations in the US and Europe, including ETI Sweden, the Ethical Trading Initiative, and the Fair Labor Association, called for the immediate restoration of democracy in Myanmar and the immediate release of all those detained/arrested by the military.

The letter expresses “profound concern” about the military coup that took place on 1 February 2021 in Myanmar, and the military’s “continued and increasingly violent crackdown against its own people”, including against leaders of unions and labour-rights organisations.

The coup, they say, threatens to reverse the progress and the thawing of relations between Myanmar and the international community ongoing since 2011.

“If democracy is not restored, the hard-fought social and economic progress of the country and the well-being of its people will be significantly put at risk. In addition, the rights of ethnic minority groups and women following the coup are at particular risk,” the letter reads.

Garment, footwear, and accessories are three of the largest export sectors in Myanmar, accounting for one-third of Myanmar’s total exports. Myanmar’s exports of garments, footwear, and accessories have more than tripled since 2016 to US$5.8bn. The sector is also a huge source of employment. The nearly 600 factories in the country employ approximately 500,000 workers, according to figures contained in the letter.

The groups say the coup creates uncertainty that has already begun to impact factory and cargo operations.

“Given the disruptions on the ground and the potential for further international sanctions, the coup may prompt a re-evaluation of Myanmar as a stable sourcing partner.”

The letter urges companies sourcing from Myanmar to place special emphasis on the safety and economic security of workers, and to identify whether they are doing business, directly or indirectly, with companies known to be owned or controlled by the military services of Myanmar. It calls for brands to “take steps to sever these business ties, while making best efforts to protect workers that may be impacted”.

“We furthermore urge all brands to engage proactively with suppliers in Myanmar and closely monitor the situation at all of their supplier factories,” the letter continues. “Companies should strive to honour all existing commitments made to factories (in terms of both payments and orders that are already in production), ensure workers are paid for the work they do, and extend lenient contract terms on delivery dates if needed, especially as production and export are likely to be negatively affected due to varying factors.”

Fashion brands and retailers sourcing in Myanmar were recently urged to take action by unions and workers rights groups to help end the military coup in the country – including publicly joining international condemnation of the takeover.

Retailers and brands accounting for around 40% of Myanmar’s garment exports – including C&A, H&M GROUP and Inditex – last month said they were deeply concerned about the current developments in the country following the recent military coup.

just-style has been following the fallout from the coup at the beginning of February: Clothing sector likely major loser from Myanmar coup.

Clothing industry executives and experts within Myanmar are warning that the country’s apparel sector is already suffering because of the coup, when the military seized power and detained Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected leaders: Uncertainty continues to shroud Myanmar’s clothing industry.

Global unions and the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) have already taken a stance against the military takeover, and clothing brands have been urged not to abandon the country’s suppliers.