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H&M took a clear stance in Myanmar

Like Benetton it suspended orders from suppliers in the country, expressing its support to workers on strike

H&M took a clear stance in Myanmar Like Benetton it suspended orders from suppliers in the country, expressing its support to workers on strike

The situation that has arisen in Myanmar after the coup d'etat is very complicated, a situation that has impact and effects also on the fashion industry, which for the first time is taking a clear position on the matter. Here are the key points to understand the context in which fashion brands are operating. 

  • Context
  • - On February 1st, in a coup, the army took power in Myanmar.
  • - The production of many brands of the fast fashion sector is located in the Southeast Asian country, such as H&M, Inditex, Primark and Benetton
  • - Myanmar textile workers have organized into unions carrying out strikes, protests and sit-ins against the authoritarian drift of the government. 

  • Effects on the fashion industry 
  • - H&M was the first brand to suspend orders from its suppliers in Myanmar.
  • - Last Friday, Benetton also suspended production in the country, declaring itself on the side of those fighting for democracy
  • - Workers are asking for support from big international brands, called to take sides politically, taking a clear position on the violence and repression carried out by the military regime. 

On Friday, the Benetton group announced that it had suspended all orders produced by its suppliers in Myanmar, due to growing concerns about the climate of violence and repression that reigns in the country after the coup, during which the army took power, arresting Aung San Suu Kyi and all the main leaders of the majority party. Myanmar represents only 2% of Benetton's supplier network, but the brand spoke of a difficult situation that presents problems of safety, freedom and violation of human rights, for which it has preferred to suspend all orders destined for the country's factories. Benetton also stated that its decision is intended to be a strong and tangible signal in support of groups fighting for democracy and to end violence in the country. However, Benetton was not the first brand to take a clear stance towards the situation in Myanmar. Last week, in fact, H&M was the first big company to declare that for the moment it will stop placing new orders for its 45 suppliers in the country, highlighting its concern about the events that have taken place in the country in recent weeks. 

Myanmar is one of the Southeast Asian countries where the production of great fast fashion brands is located. The workers of the industry - 90% of which are women - are about 700 thousand, gathered in trade unions that have organized strikes and protests since the coup d'état, severely repressed by the authorities. Textile workers have repeatedly asked large companies they work for, including H&M, Primark, the Inditex group, OVS, Benetton, to support their fight for democracy, preventing workers who strike from being fired. A general strike had already been called at the end of February, to which the police had reacted by issuing arrest warrants for the leaders of the trade unions of various sectors. The workers in the textile industry had later organized protest sit-ins outside the factories, during which they had asked H&M, Inditex and other groups not to fire those who decided to strike. Also on March 4, in a letter from the General Federation of Myanmar Workers, the workers had addressed the big fast fashion brands, asking that no workers be fired, sanctioned or discouraged from taking part in the civil disobedience movement. 

Furthermore, on February 19, the trade unions and the big international fashion companies that had signed the ACT, the Action, Collaboration, Transformation agreement, initially created to negotiate adequate salaries, had declared that they were closely following the events in Myanmar, declaring their adherence to democratic principles. Among the members of the agreement stand out H&M, Inditex and Primark. The Myanmar Clothing Workers Federation stressed that it's crucial that international brands step up to reiterate factory owners to respect workers' right to assemble and the right of freedom of expression.  

In any case, it's a very complicated situation, both for fashion brands and for workers. For brands, this can be a fundamental opportunity to re-establish their role as cultural makers, cultural forces whose influence goes far beyond seasonal trends and fashion items, but that can be strategic and crucial in matters of public importance, such as sustainability or working conditions. Especially in a historical moment like this, fashion brands are called to take sides, to take a clear position on political and social issues, especially when there's a military regime already condemned by the international community. It remains to be seen how many and which other brands will follow the H&M and Benetton's decisions, and what repercussions they'll have on the protests and working conditions in Myanmar.