C&A Foundation has put its philanthropic work in Myanmar on hold in the wake of what it called evidence of ongoing persecution and human rights violations by the country’s military against the Rohingya people.

In an announcement last week, the Foundation said that while it will fulfil its ongoing commitments, it is pausing new grant-making in the country and will instead increase its support to humanitarian relief and the prevention of gender-based violence and human trafficking amongst the growing refugee population in Bangladesh.

“The goal of C&A Foundation is to transform the fashion industry into a force for good,” it said in the statement. “That means not only making grants to change industry practices, but also using our collective power to strengthen the communities in which we work.”

The Foundation has been supporting initiatives in Myanmar since 2016, with the goal of creating a fair and equitable garment industry, working closely with stakeholders, including government, to improve conditions for garment workers.

But now the organisation says it is “deeply concerned” by evidence of ongoing persecution and human rights violations by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people.

“The United Nations and members of the international community have described the ongoing conflict in Northern Rakhine states as ethnic cleansing,” it said. “We believe it is the responsibility of the Myanmar Government to protect all populations within the country affected by conflict and allow for the safe passage of humanitarian assistance.”

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As a result, and as part of its commitment to fundamental rights, equality and diversity, C&A Foundation has decided that it cannot continue its philanthropic work in Myanmar in the current climate.

“We are hopeful the government can implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, but until an acceptable solution has been found for the Rohingya community, this pause is indefinite.”

A few years ago, optimistic observers believed that by 2020 the Myanmar garment industry would employ 1.5m people and generate US$10-$12bn in exports. With this date now looming, such performance seems out of the question. Even attaining these figures in 2024, the new target date, seems overly ambitious. Jozef De Coster recently looked at some of the challenges facing the sector.

Myanmar facing hurdles in garment industry growth