H&M probes alleged Myanmar factory abuses as pressure intensifies

H&M, the world’s second-largest fashion retailer, is investigating 20 alleged instances of labour abuse at Myanmar garment factories that supply it, Reuters news agency has reported, just weeks after Zara-owner Inditex, the top fashion retailer, said it was phasing out purchases from the Southeast Asian country.

A British-based human rights advocacy group tracked 156 cases of alleged worker abuse in Myanmar garment factories from February 2022 to February 2023, up from 56 in the previous year, indicating a deterioration of workers’ rights since a military coup in February 2021.Wage reduction and wage theft were the most frequently reported allegations, followed by unfair dismissal, inhumane work rates, and forced overtime, according to a report by the non-governmental organisation the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

“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.

The BHRRC has tracked allegations of workers’ rights abuses in Myanmar garment factories since the military government took power, plunging the country into a political and humanitarian crisis. The tracker includes abuse cases at 124 separate factories.The BHRRC said it tracks cases of alleged abuses through sources including union leaders, international media, and local media such as Myanmar Labour News, and seeks to verify reports by checking with brands and interviewing workers. Reuters has not independently verified its findings.

There have been 21 cases of alleged abuses linked to Inditex suppliers over the two-year period, and 20 linked to H&M suppliers, according to the report. Inditex declined to comment on the report.

Others mentioned in BHRRC’s report include Irish multinational fashion retailer Primark, which has 19 cases of alleged abuse; Denmark-based Bestseller, which owns popular Vero Moda and Jack & Jones brands and has 17 cases of alleged abuse; and Polish clothing company LPP, with 12 cases of alleged abuse.

“We welcome the spotlight organisations such as the BHRRC put on these issues, and we will continue to fully investigate and remediate any allegations we are made aware of, where possible,” Primark told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement. “This report highlights the stark reality of sourcing from Myanmar in the current environment and the worrying impact on workers’ rights and safety,” it added.The company has previously said it stopped placing new orders with Myanmar suppliers last year in October, and expects the last of its orders from the country to ship by the end of this year.

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