© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians and customers stroll previous a department of style retailer H&M in central Stockholm, Sweden, July 17, 2023. REUTERS/Tom Little/File Photograph
By Helen Reid
LONDON (Reuters) -H&M is investigating 20 alleged cases of labour abuse at Myanmar garment factories that provide the world’s second-largest style retailer, it advised Reuters, simply weeks after prime rival Zara-owner Inditex (BME:) stated it was phasing out purchases from the Southeast Asian nation.
A British-based human rights advocacy group tracked 156 instances of alleged employee abuse in Myanmar garment factories from February 2022 to February 2023, up from 56 within the earlier 12 months, indicating a deterioration of staff’ rights since a army coup in February 2021.
Wage discount and wage theft have been essentially the most continuously reported allegations, adopted by unfair dismissal, inhumane work charges, and compelled time beyond regulation, in accordance with a report by the non-governmental organisation, the Enterprise and Human Rights Useful resource Centre (BHRRC).
“All of the instances raised within the report by BHRRC are being adopted up and the place wanted remediated by way of our native group on the bottom and in shut cooperation with related stakeholders,” H&M stated in an announcement.
“We’re deeply involved by the most recent developments in Myanmar, and we see elevated challenges to conduct our operations in accordance with our requirements and necessities,” the Swedish retailer stated.
The BHRRC has tracked allegations of staff’ rights abuses in Myanmar garment factories for the reason that army junta took energy, plunging the nation into political and humanitarian disaster. The tracker consists of abuse instances at 124 separate factories.
The BHRRC stated it tracks instances of alleged abuses by way of sources together with union leaders, worldwide media, and native media resembling Myanmar Labour Information, and seeks to confirm experiences by checking with manufacturers and interviewing staff. Reuters has not independently verified its findings.
There have been 21 instances of alleged abuses linked to Inditex suppliers over the two-year interval, and 20 linked to H&M suppliers, in accordance with the report. Inditex declined to touch upon the report.
A spokesperson for Myanmar’s army authorities didn’t reply to a request for touch upon the findings. The Myanmar Garment Manufacturing Affiliation didn’t reply to a request for remark.
MADE IN MYANMAR
The choice by Inditex to chop ties with Myanmar suppliers got here after Primark and Marks & Spencer (OTC:) introduced plans to exit final 12 months, in a pattern that some say may in the end depart garment staff worse off.
Spanish style retailer Tendam additionally plans to cease sourcing from Myanmar, it stated in its response to a BHRRC survey of manufacturers revealed alongside the report.
“We do have a plan to go away the nation however () has not been introduced but,” Tendam wrote, with out detailing its causes. Tendam didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.
Primark advised Reuters it expects its last orders from Myanmar suppliers to ship earlier than the top of this 12 months, however has additionally elevated its presence on the bottom.
“As we work in direction of our exit, we have doubled the scale of our Moral Commerce group on the bottom, enabling us to extra commonly go to the factories we nonetheless work with and giving us better visibility,” Primark stated in an electronic mail on Wednesday.
Some manufacturers persevering with to supply from Myanmar have additionally ramped up monitoring of suppliers.
Danish style firm Bestseller elevated its variety of workers in its Myanmar workplace from three to 11 for the reason that coup, it stated in its survey response.
H&M, Bestseller, and Tendam are amongst 18 manufacturers forming a part of the European Union-funded MADE venture geared toward enhancing labour situations in Myanmar’s garment factories.
The EU’s stance is that corporations ought to proceed sourcing from Myanmar, the place the garment trade is a key employer, with greater than 500 factories producing garments and sneakers for large manufacturers.
“By partaking as an organization in discussions with native labour rights teams and commerce unions on wages and labour situations you may have leverage,” stated Karina Ufert, CEO on the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar. “By leaving the nation, it’s troublesome to see how one can have an affect on native situations.”
Vicky Bowman, former British ambassador to Myanmar and director of the Myanmar Centre for Accountable Enterprise, stated the worldwide manufacturers below stress to cease shopping for from Myanmar have been additionally the most certainly to supply secure jobs and take extra steps to protect in opposition to rights abuses.
“In the event that they depart, both the roles disappear fully, or factories scrabble to obtain orders from footloose shopping for brokers who care solely about low cost labour and don’t worry about manufacturing unit situations,” Bowman advised Reuters.
Within the BHRRC survey, a number of the world’s greatest attire manufacturers detailed their strategy to the dilemma.
In its response, sportswear big Adidas (OTC:) wrote: “Regardless of the human rights and labor rights dangers which have been recognized, we consider that by way of enhanced human rights due diligence measures, we will proceed to do enterprise in Myanmar in a accountable method and in alignment with core ILO (Worldwide Labour Group) conventions, the UN Guiding Ideas, and the OECD Tips.”
Britain’s Subsequent wrote that it had thought-about withdrawing from Myanmar, however “while it could actually ship a transparent sign to the native authorities that its insurance policies and practices are unacceptable, it could actually do enormous injury to native communities and staff, depriving them of desperately wanted funding and wages.”