Top fashion brands complicit in Myanmar military coup abuse
Inditex, Bestseller, LPP S.A., Lidl and H&M were linked to the most documented allegations of abuse.
Ahead of the third anniversary of the military takeover in Myanmar, new data released today (31 January 2024) reveals worsening conditions for garment workers. The data, compiled by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), was published alongside eye-opening testimony from the workers themselves. It revealed first-hand accounts of unsafe working conditions, gender-based violence and harassment, inhumane work rates and mandatory overtime, as well as reduced wages and wage theft.
Since the illegal military takeover in Myanmar in February 2021, BHRRC has identified 401 allegations of labour and human rights violations affecting tens of thousands of workers in Myanmar’s garment sector. Big fashion brands have failed to protect workers in their supply chains from widespread labour rights abuses with Inditex, Bestseller, LPP S.A., Lidl and H&M linked to most documented allegations.
The data painted a troubling picture of what is happening on the ground for the country’s garment workers, the majority of whom are women. Since the military takeover three years ago, BHRRC has documented:
- 230 reported cases of reduced wages and wage theft;
- 185 reported cases of inhumane work rates and mandatory overtime;
- 136 reported cases of unfair dismissal;
- 134 reported cases of unsafe working conditions;
- 133 reported cases of gender-based violence and harassment;
- 124 reported cases of harassment, intimidation and abuse;
- 121 reported cases of denial of leave.
Natalie Swan, Head of Labour Rights, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “While the world focuses on other crises, Myanmar faces a perfect storm of protracted social, political and economic challenges – including recession and high levels of violence. Our January 2024 interviews with workers revealed an alarming picture of the proliferation of human rights abuses against garment workers – many of whom are producing clothes for some of the world’s largest fashion brands. Things are clearly getting worse for them, with reports of gender-based violence, inhumane working conditions and forced overtime having become commonplace.
“When a repressive military regime takes over state machinery, brands operating or sourcing from that country have an unequivocal obligation to conduct heightened human rights due diligence on their supply chains in a way that is transparent and risk-based. But three years after Myanmar’s military takeover, most fashion brands buying from factories in the country continue to show a concerning lack of action in ensuring protection for workers who make their clothes. They need to do far more to guarantee the clothes they sell across the globe are not the result of exploitation.
“In the current circumstances, where heightened human rights due diligence is not possible, brands must undertake a responsible exit from the country. Brands and investors who ignore this course of action – while continuing to benefit from low production costs in Myanmar – risk capitalising on an operating environment made possible by a regime known for its brutal rights violations and repression.”
Notes to editors:
- Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts of companies across the globe.
- Myanmar garment worker allegation tracker: Through collaboration with partners and allies inside and outside Myanmar, BHRRC is monitoring the significant increase in labour and human rights abuses of garment workers across the country since the military takeover.
- Three years of military rule in Myanmar: This briefing examines allegations of abuse tracked over the past year and responses from international buyers – many familiar big brand names. It also includes testimonies from anonymous* worker interviews with the aim of centring the everyday experience of this predominantly female and increasingly precarious workforce.
Media contact: Priyanka Mogul (London-based), Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [email protected]