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AMSTERDAM – Fashion brands sourcing clothing from Myanmar need to increase due diligence measures around worker welfare while considering carefully whether withdrawing business from the country is necessarily the best option. The NGO has issued a statement of solidarity with the people of Myanmar on the first anniversary of the attempted military coup.

“In such a volatile situation, brands may be tempted to cut and run, and many already have, but our message to brands is that they should prioritise workers’ rights above all,” said Clean Clothes in a statement.

Clean Clothes has previously called for Myanmar to be stripped of the preferential trading terms offered via the Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement.

In February 2021, a military coup rocked Myanmar. Since then, the military have arrested, charged or sentenced 8835 people, including many labour rights activists, and 1503 people have been killed by them.

Clean Clothes and other rights groups have condemned the violence but generally stopped short of urging brands to withdraw business from Myanmar. The reason for this is that the country is heavily dependent on its clothing export sector and the loss of business from major high street retailers would ultimately lead to factory closures and widescale job losses.

Added a statement from Clean Clothes: “Those sourcing from Myanmar have a clear responsibility to ensure their actions do no harm and that they are taking concrete steps to protect workers. This means undertaking heightened, ongoing and context-specific due diligence that prioritises workers’ safety and rights.

“It means finding safe ways to engage directly with workers to hear their needs, and to respond to their demands. Brands due diligence needs to run through their whole value chain, not only their closest suppliers, and they need to follow the money at every stage to ensure that they are not inadvertently putting it into the hands of the military. In Myanmar, as in every garment producing country, brands have power and they should use it for good.

“For brands that choose to disengage from Myanmar, they must do so responsibly, meaning they must honour all commitments and payments, and ensure that workers receive all wages, severance and benefits owed to them. A responsible exit does not mean simply pulling out of the country and turning their back on workers, but instead engaging wherever possible to protect rights and lives.”

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