After a military coup on 1 February 2021 caused a state of emergency to be declared in Myanmar and protests by the population against the military junta’s seizure of power were met with violence, quite a few buyers withdrew from the Southeast Asian country for the time being. After a temporary pause, some apparel companies like Bestseller, H&M and Primark are resuming their sourcing activities. FashionUnited inquired about their reasons to do so.
Danish fashion company Bestseller commissioned an independent report and evaluation of its due diligence to ensure responsible production in Myanmar. The report was prepared by independent lawyer Jonas Christoffersen, who was previously director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights for 11 years. The report addresses specifically three questions, namely whether the military had received money from factories contracted by Bestseller, whether Bestseller had fulfilled its corporate social responsibility and whether it had violated EU sanctions.
Bestseller commissions independent report
“Based on our findings, we do not believe that there are reasonable grounds to assume that the three factories are located on plots of land that are owned, directly or indirectly, by the military. Neither do we believe that there are reasonable grounds to assume that the three factories have paid administration fees, directly or indirectly, to the military,” confirms the report, which was published earlier this month, in regards to 3 of the 36 garment companies that Bestseller uses in Myanmar.
“We are clearly of the opinion that there is no doubt that Bestseller lived up to their corporate social responsibility in accordance with the highest international standards in relation to their activities in Myanmar. Bestseller reacted very quickly to the report from the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission, just as Bestseller – when it was later required – continued its thorough investigation with the support of local experts and sources,” is the response to the second question. In terms of the third, a breach of EU sanctions was not found.
H&M wants to save jobs of 50,000 garment workers
Clothing company H&M said in response to an inquiry from FashionUnited: “For a period of time, the H&M Group temporarily suspended placing new orders with our suppliers in Myanmar. Now we are gradually starting to place new orders again. With our decision we want to avoid the imminent risk of our suppliers having to close their factories, which would inevitably lead to the unemployment of tens of thousands of textile workers. Today, more than 50,000 people depend on the jobs of our suppliers for their livelihoods. Without buyers ordering products, there will be no garment industry in Myanmar.”
“We are of course deeply concerned about the situation in Myanmar. In order to understand how we can best contribute to positive development in the country, in line with the declared intention of the people, we are in close dialogue with UN agencies, diplomatic representatives and human rights experts. We have asked them for advice on how international companies should respond to the very worrying situation. While we recognise that any advice on this complex matter involves a delicate balancing of various considerations, the general view is that the preferred course for international companies is to stay and continue to do business if they can ensure that there are no links to Myanmar’s ruling military,” added H&M.
The company has also raised its concerns about challenges to fundamental human rights, such as freedom of association, with trade unions, brands and human rights organisations. It relies on the partnership of all stakeholders and transparency in this regard.
Primark is not letting major suppliers down
Irish textile discounter Primark also commented when approached by FashionUnited: “For us, the safety and welfare of every individual who makes products for Primark is paramount – as are their rights and freedoms, as outlined in our Code of Conduct.”
“We made the decision a few weeks ago to pause sourcing in Myanmar. At the time, we hoped that this would only be temporary, as we are committed to supporting our suppliers and protecting the livelihoods of workers in their factories. Regardless of the duration of production and delivery periods, we are committed to fulfilling all existing orders with our suppliers in Myanmar, and we have resumed some orders with our most strategic local suppliers. We are in close and regular contact with our suppliers and continue to monitor the situation very closely, following recommendations from government and external experts,” commented a Primark spokeswoman.
Brands and retailers have to monitor situation closely
Organisations like the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) are calling on all suppliers, brands and retailers that are active in Myanmar, to publicly condemn the military coup, call for the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, and to support the people’s protests and the Civil Disobedience Movement. Brands and retailers also need to ensure that their business activities do not contribute to or aggravate human rights violations and are not directly linked to the military.
“Brands and retailers sourcing in Myanmar need to exercise human rights due diligence with their suppliers and on their whole supply chain to ensure these principles are respected. Garment companies must continue to identify, document, address and remediate human rights abuses and risks in the garment sector in Myanmar,“ advised the Clean Clothes Campaign in a statement in March.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), at least 815 people have been killed and more than 5400 have been arrested since the military coup began in Myanmar.