The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (Unite) has called on discount retailer Fred's Inc to stop importing and selling clothing made in Myanmar.

Demonstrators at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday demanded greater corporate accountability from the company.

”Fred's refuses to sever its trading ties with Burma, even after hundreds of other companies, including Wal-Mart and Family Dollar, have ended their relationships with Burmese suppliers in response to the public outcry about human rights violations in Burma,” the union said.

Fred's Inc is a rapidly growing pharmacy and general merchandise chain with 470 stores in the US.

The union also said that in May 2002, workers at Fred's distribution centre, located in Memphis, TN, voted overwhelmingly to form a union with the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees [UNITE] in order to improve dangerous and unjust working conditions. Fred's management retaliated by illegally firing more than a dozen union supporters and unfairly disciplining others.

Memphis-based Fred's responded with a statement to say its clothing purchases made through international buying agencies bearing Burma labels represent less than one-half of one per cent of its total purchases.

"The company believes that all parties in its import supply chain adhere to appropriate international labor practices," Fred's added.