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Sweden’s H&M Probes 20 Labour Abuse Allegations in Myanmar

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Sweden's H&M Probes 20 Labour Abuse Allegations in Myanmar

H&M, the Swedish multinational apparel firm, has said that it is investigating 20 alleged cases of labour exploitation at Myanmar garment factories that supply the world’s second-largest fashion retailer, only weeks after top rival Zara owner Inditex announced that it is discontinuing imports from Myanmar.

From February 2022 to February 2023, a UK-based human rights advocacy group monitored 156 incidences of alleged worker mistreatment in Myanmar garment factories, up from 56 the previous year, indicating a deterioration in workers’ rights since a military takeover in February 2021.

According to a survey reviewed by Reuters and expected to be released on Wednesday (Aug 16) by the NGO, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), wage decrease and wage theft were the most often reported allegations, followed by unjust dismissal, inhumane work rates, and forced overtime.

“All of the cases raised in the BHRRC report are being followed up on and, where necessary, remediated by our local team on the ground in close collaboration with relevant stakeholders,” H&M said in a statement.

“We are deeply concerned by the latest developments in Myanmar, and we see increased challenges in carrying out our operations in accordance with our standards and requirements,” stated the Swedish retailer.

Since the military junta seized power in Myanmar, throwing it into a political and humanitarian crisis, the BHRRC has been tracking allegations of labour rights violations in garment factories. The tracker includes abuse reports from 124 different factories.

H&M

According to the BHRRC, it records examples of suspected abuses through sources including as union leaders, international media, and local media such as Myanmar Labour News, and strives to verify reports by contacting brands and interrogating workers.

Reuters did not independently verify its results.

According to the research, there have been 21 examples of suspected violations linked to Inditex suppliers. Inditex did not respond to the report.

A representative for Myanmar’s military administration did not respond to a request for comment on the findings. The Myanmar Garment Manufacturing Association did not respond to a request for comment.

Inditex, a Spanish conglomerate, was the latest brand to indicate it will break connections with Myanmar suppliers, following Primark and Marks & Spencer last year, in a trend that some worry might eventually harm garment workers.

According to the BHRRC poll, some brands have instead increased their surveillance of Myanmar suppliers. For example, field offices in the country allow brands to perform their own inspections rather than depending on external audits.

According to the report, Dublin-based Primark has more than doubled its Yangon-based personnel despite saying last September that it would discontinue sourcing from Myanmar, while Danish fashion brand Bestseller has grown its staff on the ground from three to eleven since the coup.

H&M

H&M and Bestseller are among the 18 firms involved in the European Union-funded MADE project, which aims to improve labour conditions in Myanmar’s textile factories.

The EU believes that companies should continue to get garments from Myanmar, where the industry employs over 500 people and produces clothing and shoes for major 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,” Karina Ufert, CEO of the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, explained.

“It’s difficult to see how leaving the country can have an impact on local conditions.”

According to Vicky Bowman, former British ambassador to Myanmar and director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, foreign firms under pressure to quit buying from Myanmar are also the most likely to give steady jobs and take further efforts to protect against human rights violations.

“If they leave, either the jobs vanish completely or factories scramble to receive orders from footloose buying agents who care only about cheap labour and are unconcerned about factory conditions,” Bowman explained.

H&M

Sweden’s H&M multinational

H&M (Hennes & Mauritz AB) is a Swedish international clothing shop recognised for its quick fashion and low prices. Erling Persson founded the firm in Västers, Sweden, in 1947. It was formerly known as “Hennes,” which translates to “hers” in Swedish, and it mostly offered women’s apparel.

In the early 1960s, the company bought up another clothing store, Mauritz Widforss, which specialised in men’s apparel. This resulted in the name change to Hennes & Mauritz, or simply H&M.

H&M’s business approach relies around providing a diverse selection of innovative and attractive clothing goods at reasonable costs. The organisation is well-known for its ability to quickly adapt to changing fashion trends and consistently supply new fashions to its clients. This fast-fashion technique has enabled H&M to become one of the world’s largest and most well-known fashion businesses.

H&M has stores in many countries throughout the world, making it a genuinely global brand. In addition to its physical locations, the company has a significant online presence, with clients able to purchase its products via its website and mobile app.

H&M has received both praise and criticism over the years. Its low costs and diverse product offerings have garnered a large client base, but the fast-fashion model has also been chastised for its potential environmental effect and labour practises in some parts of the world. H&M has made steps to address these issues, including the implementation of sustainability programmes and the improvement of supply chain practises.

 

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