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February 23, 2021

Fashion brands urged to publicly condemn Myanmar coup

By Leonie Barrie

Fashion brands and retailers sourcing in Myanmar are being urged to take action to help end the military coup in the country – including publicly joining international condemnation of the takeover.

The plea comes from unions and worker rights groups who have set out a number of commitments that they want brands to endorse – and to encourage other companies to follow suit. 

“The international community needs to come together to put economic pressure on Myanmar’s military, without negatively impacting the lives and well being of the people of Myanmar,” says a joint statement signed by groups including Fashion Roundtable, Labour Behind the Label, Homeworkers Worldwide, Unite the Union, Traidcraft Exchange and War on Want.

The international community has reacted with shock at Myanmar’s military junta staging a coup on 1 February and arresting democratically elected leaders and activists.

The people of Myanmar have come out in defiance of the military and a spontaneous civil disobedience movement has emerged that involves a call for a general strike. Workers, including many in the garment industry have gone on strike in reaction to the coup and are taking part in mass demonstrations on a daily basis.

“We fully support the trade union federations in Myanmar that have suspended all involvement in the tripartite mechanisms that had worked with the government on labour issues, citing fears of a return to the brutal and oppressive practices against workers perpetrated by the military junta in the past,” the statement says, adding: “Myanmar’s trade union federations are calling for Western brands to take action and help end the military coup.

It urges all brands operating in Myanmar to:

  • Publicly join the international condemnation of the military coup in Myanmar and support the protests for democracy.
  • Exercise due diligence for any trade in Myanmar ensuring no business or investment ties directly linked with the military.  
  • When working with businesses and suppliers not tied to the military in Myanmar, ensure that these businesses do not contribute to or aggravate human rights violations.
  • Ensure the job security and wage payments of striking or protesting workers, and make sure no worker or union leader is punished for going on strike or joining the demonstrations against the coup.
  • Protect workers in areas where the security situation, or a heavy police or military presence makes them feel unsafe going into work, ensuring they are not forced into work, and are not penalised or face loss of wages.

Retailers and brands accounting for around 40% of Myanmar’s garment exports – including C&A, H&M Group and Inditex – last week 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.

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