H&M probes Myanmar factory labor abuses

H&M has said it is investigating 20 reported cases of labor mistreatment at garment factories in Myanmar, which provide products to the second-largest fashion retailer globally, weeks after Inditex, the parent company of Zara and a top competitor of H&M, revealed its decision to phase out purchases from Myanmar.

A human rights advocacy organization based in the UK documented 156 instances of suspected worker mistreatment in Myanmar garment factories from February 2022 to February 2023. This represents a significant increase from the 56 cases reported in the preceding year, highlighting a decline in workers’ rights conditions since the military coup in February 2021.

The most commonly cited accusations were related to wage reduction and wage theft, with instances of unfair dismissal, inhumane work pace, and compelled overtime following closely, as outlined in a report by the non-governmental organization known as the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

H&M responded to the report by stating, “We are actively addressing all the cases outlined in the BHRRC report, taking necessary actions through our local team on the ground and in collaboration with relevant stakeholders.”

“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.

Since the military junta seized control in Myanmar, causing both political and humanitarian turmoil, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) has been monitoring claims of workers’ rights violations in garment factories. The tracker encompasses incidents of abuse across 124 distinct factories.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) indicated that it monitors instances of purported abuses by utilizing sources such as union leaders, international media, and local outlets like Myanmar Labour News. They aim to validate these reports by engaging with brands and interviewing workers.

The report states that there have been 21 reported cases of alleged abuses associated with suppliers linked to Inditex over two years. Additionally, there were 20 cases linked to H&M suppliers during the same period. Inditex declined to comment on the report.

A spokesperson for Myanmar’s military government did not respond to a request for comment concerning the findings. Similarly, the Myanmar Garment Manufacturing Association did not provide a response to a request for comment.

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