H&M, the world’s second-largest fashion retailer, is currently investigating 20 alleged instances of labor abuse at garment factories in Myanmar that supply the company. This comes just weeks after Inditex, the owner of Zara, announced that it would be phasing out purchases from the Southeast Asian country. The increase in reported worker abuses suggests a deterioration of workers’ rights since the military coup in February 2021. The most frequently reported allegations include wage reduction, wage theft, unfair dismissal, inhumane work rates, and forced overtime, according to a report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).
H&M has stated that it is taking all the cases raised in the BHRRC report seriously and is working to remediate the issues through its local team on the ground and in collaboration with relevant stakeholders. The Swedish retailer expressed deep concern about the situation in Myanmar and the challenges it faces in operating according to its standards and requirements.
The BHRRC has been monitoring allegations of workers’ rights abuses in garment factories since the military junta took control of Myanmar. The organization tracks cases of abuse through various sources, including union leaders, international media, and local media outlets such as Myanmar Labour News. The BHRRC seeks to verify reports by consulting with brands and conducting interviews with workers. However, Reuters has not independently verified the findings.
According to the BHRRC report, there have been 21 cases of alleged abuses linked to Inditex suppliers over the past two years and 20 cases linked to H&M suppliers. Inditex declined to comment on the report. The military government of Myanmar and the Myanmar Garment Manufacturing Association did not respond to requests for comment on the findings.
In addition to Inditex, other brands such as Primark, Marks & Spencer, and Tendam have also announced plans to exit Myanmar. Some experts warn that this trend could ultimately leave garment workers worse off. Tendam stated in its response to the BHRRC survey of brands that it has a plan to leave the country but has not yet announced it. Primark, on the other hand, expects its final orders from Myanmar suppliers to ship before the end of the year and has increased its presence on the ground to ensure greater visibility and regular visits to the factories it still works with.
It is crucial for brands and retailers to address labor abuse allegations in their supply chains and take responsibility for ensuring workers’ rights are protected. The situation in Myanmar highlights the ongoing challenges faced by the global fashion industry in maintaining ethical standards and upholding workers’ rights.