Myanmar Factory Workers Plead for Help: Will Benetton, H&M, Inditex Continue to Listen?

What’s in this article:

  • Pro-democracy protestors in Myanmar need a helping hand from international fashion brands that account for the country’s 31% of exports worth $4.59 billion
  • Benetton, H&M, Inditex respond by pausing all orders from Myanmar suppliers
  • The 600 factories are significant for the garment workers in the country and the outcome may be devastating

In recent weeks, increasingly deadly mass demonstrations have taken place due to the ousting of the nation’s democracy icon, the Aung San Suu Kyi government on February 1.

With more than 70 protesters killed, concerns of rising violence have risen among fashion brands who have direct suppliers in Myanmar:

  1. Benetton – 2% of the Italian knitwear brand’s suppliers are based in Myanmar
  2. H&M – the Swedish fashion retailer has 850 suppliers in the country
  3. Inditex – clothing from the Spanish multinational clothing company

Altogether, these fashion brands, along with others like Primark and Bestseller, account for 31% of exports worth $4.59 billion.

A year after the COVID pandemic broke out – which brought with it layoffs, pay cuts, and union crackdowns – 63% of the population is making $1.90 a day in Myanmar – working 11 hours a day, sometimes six days a week.

The country’s garment factory workers – many of them women – play a crucial part as activists in the rallies against the country’s police and military. As these mass protests threaten both their freedom and the industry, they call for fashion brands to step forward and help.

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How Are the Western Brands Reacting?


The Italian high-street clothing group said it had immediately suspended all new orders from its suppliers in Myanmar.

“We express our most profound concern for what is happening in Myanmar,” the Company said. “The situation presents such problems, both in terms of security and of freedom and rights violations, that we have decided to suspend all new orders.”


The Swedish fashion retailer became one of the first to pause placing new orders in Myanmar over unrest and deadly force against demonstrators.

“Although we refrain from taking any immediate action regarding our long-term presence in the country, we have at this point paused placing new orders with our suppliers,” said Serkan Tanka, H&M’s country manager in Myanmar.

“Practical difficulties and an unpredictable situation limiting our ability to operate in the country, including challenges related to manufacturing and infrastructure, raw material imports and transport of finished goods.”


The fashion group has expressed its concerns during the past month over dictatorship in the country and said they would be paying extra attention to events. Inditex among other brands are all signatories of ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) an agreement between brands and the global trade union IndustriALL.

“We were important because we started the protests and came out on the streets early and set a good example for other people across the country,” said Mai Ei Ei Phyu, who leads a union with roughly 500 members at a factory that makes clothing for Inditex’s Bershka brand.

“People are proud of us. I do what I do now for my son and daughter and the next generation, so they don’t have to live under the hardships of a dictatorship as I did when I was their age.”

Are These the Right Solutions to The Problem?

It’s clear that the mass demonstrations occurring right now come at high cost for the 450,0000+ factory workers in Myanmar as many will be left jobless, broke, and completely hopeless.

Asides from halting new orders from suppliers in Myanmar – could the brands take other measures to help the situation? Raising awareness, sending money to workers, educating, posting more on social media – are just a few ideas we can think of. We surely don’t want to see them stopping at just pausing their business.

A recent study on poverty, food insecurity, and social protection during COVID-19 in Myanmar suggests the following recommended actions:

  • Re-assess the current mechanisms used to target poor households with cash transfers.
  • Under tight fiscal constraints, it may be advisable to offer households more generous cash transfers during lockdown periods and smaller or more tightly targeted transfers during post lockdown recovery periods, including cash-for-work schemes.
  • The Government and its development partners should invest more in monitoring and evaluating the government’s COVID-19 related household welfare interventions.

If there’s one thing 2020 taught us from corporate social responsibility angle is that companies can make a real positive impact on people’s lives. That customers expect them to use this power for good.

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