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15 Sep 2022

Myanmar: Ethical Trading Initiative recommends brands & retailers consider 'responsible exit' from Myanmar following military takeover

IndustriALL Global Union

In September 2022, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) published the findings of an assessment conducted by Due Diligence Design, with the support of SHIFT and IMPACTT, on human rights and responsible business conduct within Myanmar following the military takeover, which began on 1 February 2021.

According to ETI, the report provided evidence of forced labour and exploitation across the apparel sector, with workers facing long hours, low wages, unpaid overtime and harassment. Furthermore, workers were denied their right to freedom of association.

The study found that the military had perpetrated violence, was complicit in human rights abuses, and persecuted those who attempted to defend workers' rights.

Due to widespread state sponsored violence and corruption, workers and those who had formally defended workers' rights were found to be in fear of speaking out, while trade unions were reported as unable to operate normally, with many civil society organisations declared 'unlawful' by the military.

The report concluded that due to the situation, companies are unlikely to be able to engage in meaningful consultations with workers or their representatives about their working conditions, and thus, it is nearly impossible for brands to conduct normal human rights due diligence.

In its recommendations, the ETI stated that, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, clothing brands and retailers should reconsider their presence in the country, and during this period must refrain from making any additional investments in Myanmar. If companies choose to remain, they must demonstrate how they are meeting and respecting internationally recognised human rights. If companies choose to exit Myanmar, they must do so responsibly, and in consultation with social partners.

In September 2022, Primark announced it would be working towards a responsible exit, following the ETI's assessment of the situation in Myanmar.