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H&M Investigates Violations In A Myanmar Plant As Criticism Mounts

H&M Investigates Violations In A Myanmar Plant As Criticism Mounts
The second-largest fashion retailer in the world, H&M, has announced that it is investigating 20 suspected cases of labour exploitation at Myanmar clothing factories. This comes only weeks after top rival Inditex, owner of Zara, announced that it was discontinuing imports from the Southeast Asian nation.
From February 2022 to February 2023, a UK-based human rights advocacy group monitored 156 cases of alleged worker abuses in Myanmar garment factories, up from 56 the year before, indicating a decline in workers' rights since a military takeover in February 2021.
According to a survey by the NGO, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), reviewed by Reuters and scheduled for publication on Wednesday, unfair dismissal, inhumane work rates, and forced overtime were the most often reported allegations, followed by wage decrease and wage theft.
"All the cases raised in the report by BHRRC are being followed-up and where needed remediated through our local team on the ground and in close cooperation with relevant stakeholders," H&M said in a statement.
"We are deeply concerned by the latest developments in Myanmar, and we see increased challenges to conduct our operations according to our standards and requirements," the Swedish retailer said.
Since Myanmar's military junta came to power and sparked a political and humanitarian crisis, the BHRRC has been monitoring claims of worker rights violations in garment manufacturers. The tracker contains instances of mistreatment from 124 different factories.
According to the BHRRC, it keeps track of cases of suspected abuses through a variety of sources, including union leaders, international media, and local media like Myanmar Labour News. It also reportedly strives to confirm accusations by contacting companies and speaking with employees. The results were not independently verified by Reuters.
The research claims that there have been 21 instances of alleged misuse connected to Inditex suppliers. Inditex opted not to respond to the report.
A request for comment on the findings was not answered by a military government spokeswoman for Myanmar. Requests for feedback from the Myanmar Garment Manufacturing Association went unanswered.
After Marks & Spencer and Primark last year, the Spanish conglomerate Inditex was the most recent company to announce that it will sever connections with Myanmar suppliers. Some claim that this trend may ultimately worsen the situation for garment workers.
According to the BHRRC survey, certain brands have increased their surveillance of suppliers in Myanmar. For instance, brands can perform their own inspections instead of depending on external audits thanks to field offices across the nation.
The poll revealed that despite saying in September that it would stop sourcing from Myanmar, Dublin-based Primark has doubled the number of employees it employs there, while since the coup, Bestseller of Denmark has grown its local workforce from three to 11.
The MADE project, which is supported by the European Union and aims to improve working conditions in Myanmar's garment factories, includes 18 brands, including H&M and Bestseller.
According to the EU, businesses should keep buying clothing from Myanmar, where the sector employs a significant number of people and where more than 500 factories produce clothing and shoes for well-known brands.
"By engaging as a company in discussions with local labour rights groups and trade unions on wages and labour conditions you can have leverage," said Karina Ufert, CEO at the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar.
"By leaving the country, it is difficult to see how you can have an influence on local conditions."
The international companies under pressure to discontinue doing business with Myanmar are also the most likely to offer steady employment opportunities and take further precautions to prevent violations of human rights, according to Vicky Bowman, former UK ambassador to Myanmar and director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business.
"If they leave, either the jobs disappear entirely, or factories scrabble to receive orders from footloose buying agents who care only about cheap labour and do not worry about factory conditions," Bowman told Reuters.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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