H&M is facing another wave of labour abuse allegations, with twenty potential cases from its Myanmar factories coming to light. Will the brand prioritize workers’ well-being or profits?
This revelation follows closely after Zara’s parent company, Inditex, announced its decision to phase out purchases from the country. These developments have amplified concerns about the treatment of workers and the complicity of major fashion brands in labour rights violations.
A Rising Tide of Worker Exploitation
A UK-based human rights advocacy group has diligently tracked 156 alleged worker abuses in Myanmar’s garment factories from February 2022 to February 2023.
This alarming rise in reported cases, up from 56 the previous year, reflects a deteriorating worker rights situation since the military coup in February 2021. The gravity of the problem is underscored by allegations of wage reduction, wage theft, unfair dismissal, inhumane work rates, and forced overtime, as outlined in a report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).
H&M’s Response and Ethical Dilemma
H&M has not been immune to these allegations. The brand has stated that it is actively addressing all cases raised in the BHRRC report.
H&M has acknowledged the situation’s complexity, stating: “We are deeply concerned by the latest developments in Myanmar, and we see increased challenges to conducting our operations according to our standards and requirements.”
The brand’s involvement in the country’s labour issues is yet another reminder of the ethical dilemmas multinational corporations face.
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The Fashion Industry’s Ongoing Struggle for Accountability
The fashion industry’s struggles with labour rights abuses are not unique to H&M. The BHRRC report has highlighted that brands like Inditex, Bestseller, Primark, and H&M have been linked to the most documented allegations of labour rights violations in Myanmar.
The report paints a grim picture of abuses, ranging from inhumane working conditions, wage theft, violence, and even killings. The absence of freedom of association worsens workers’ struggles to improve their situations.
The lack of freedom of association prevents workers from organizing and expressing themselves collectively.
Just this year, seven Myanmar garment workers faced a military court for advocating a pay raise at an Inditex supplier’s factory. The workers had formed a union to negotiate for better conditions collectively. However, their subsequent arrest and trial underscored the harsh consequences workers regularly encounter when attempting to advocate for their rights.
A Critical Juncture
Major fashion brands need to take urgent action to address these labour abuse issues as they grapple with allegations of labor abuse. These brands must consider their moral and ethical responsibilities instead of continuing to favour profits over human rights.
Sure, we can easily blame customers for feeding into this by continuing to purchase from the brands. However, the responsibility lies with these fashion giants.
As the crisis unfolds, a comprehensive approach is necessary. This includes responsible disengagement from Myanmar, as some brands have already initiated.
It also means advocating for robust labour rights protections in countries where fashion supply chains operate. The focus should be dismantling abusive practices and supporting workers’ rights to fair wages and safe working conditions.
Like many developments in recent years, this latest development calls for a renewed commitment to human rights.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: H&M Logo. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash.