Myanmar disaster sounds loss of life knell for garment business, jobs and hope


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Two years after opening his garment manufacturing unit in Myanmar, Li Dongliang is on the verge of closing down and shedding his 800 remaining staff.

Enterprise had been struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however after a Feb. 1 coup that sparked mass protests and a lethal crackdown, throughout which his manufacturing unit was set alight amid a surge of anti-Chinese language sentiment, orders stopped.

His story is emblematic of the perilous state of affairs going through a sector crucial to Myanmar’s financial system, which accounts for a 3rd of its exports and employs 700,000 low-income staff, based on U.N. knowledge.

“We might don’t have any selection however to surrender on Myanmar if there aren’t any new orders within the subsequent few months,” stated Li, including he has been working at about 20% capability, surviving solely on orders positioned earlier than the coup, and had already shed 400 workers.

Li stated he and plenty of of his friends had been contemplating transferring to different low-cost garment hubs like China, Cambodia or Vietnam, as massive style manufacturers like H&M and Primark have stopped buying and selling with Myanmar because of the coup.

Chinese language nationals like Li fund almost a 3rd of Myanmar’s 600 garment factories, based on the Myanmar Garment Producers Affiliation, by far the biggest investor group.


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At the very least two different Chinese language-funded garment factories in Myanmar, using a mixed 3,000 staff, had determined to shut, stated Khin Could Htway, managing associate of MyanWei Consulting Group, which advises Chinese language buyers in Myanmar. She stated the 2 companies had been her purchasers however declined to establish them citing privateness.

Overseas funding in clothes surged in Myanmar over the previous decade as financial reforms, an finish to Western sanctions and commerce offers helped set up the sector as the best image of its nascent emergence as a producing hub.

Myanmar garment shipments rose from lower than $1 billion in 2011, about 10% of exports, to greater than $6.5 billion in 2019, about 30% of exports, based on U.N. Comtrade knowledge.

However the sector has been rocked by the pandemic which plunged the world into recession and choked shopper demand, leading to tens of 1000’s of garment manufacturing unit jobs misplaced in Myanmar and elsewhere in Asia.

Then the coup occurred.

Within the weeks that adopted, many garment staff joined protests or couldn’t get to work as streets grew to become battlegrounds. The turmoil additionally jammed the banking system and made it tough to get items in and overseas, manufacturing unit house owners stated.

With worldwide condemnation of the coup rising, European and U.S. style manufacturers final month issued an announcement by means of their associations saying they might defend jobs and honor commitments in Myanmar.

Nevertheless, many have not too long ago halted orders there together with the world’s second-biggest style retailer, Sweden’s H&M , Britain’s Subsequent and Primark, and Italy’s Benetton.


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Subsequent stated it might break up its orders beforehand going to Myanmar between Bangladesh, Cambodia and China, whereas Benetton stated it might primarily transfer enterprise to China. H&M and Primark haven’t commented on how they’ll redistribute orders.


In Vietnam, garment manufacturing unit proprietor Ravi Chunilal informed Reuters he was beginning to get extra enterprise from European patrons diverting from Myanmar.

“They don’t wish to abandon Myanmar … but it surely’s being compelled upon them,” stated Peter McAllister of Moral Commerce Initiative, a labor rights group whose members embody European high-street manufacturers.

McAllister stated that it might be very tough for Myanmar’s garment sector to recuperate if Chinese language buyers left.

Anti-China sentiment has risen for the reason that coup, with opponents of the takeover noting Beijing’s muted criticism in contrast with Western condemnation. It was in opposition to this backdrop that a number of Chinese language-funded factories, together with Li’s, had been torched by unidentified assailants throughout a protest final month.

Rights teams have repeatedly raised considerations about exploitation in Myanmar’s garment sector, the place largely girls staff earn as little as 4,800 kyat ($3.40) a day, the bottom charges within the area.

But it surely has supplied an escape from poverty for a lot of, as staff have migrated from rural areas to the factories, primarily across the industrial hub of Yangon, and despatched a reimbursement to their households.

Khin Maung Aye, managing director of Lat Conflict clothes manufacturing unit, which employs 3,500 individuals, says the sector faces collapse if the navy doesn’t restore a democratically elected authorities.


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That will lead to “horrible outcomes of poverty,” he stated, including that he was additionally staying afloat on orders positioned earlier than the coup however feared orders for subsequent season, usually due later this month, will dry up.

Skinny Skinny, a 21-year-old garment employee, stated her household of 5 was surviving on a 8,600 kyat ($59) month-to-month retainer her manufacturing unit had given her whereas it shut down due to the coup.

“I really feel so harassed … We’ve nothing left to pawn. We’ve to borrow from cash lenders at 20% curiosity a month.”

The USA, which has imposed focused sanctions on Myanmar’s navy, late final month suspended commerce talks with it and stated it was reviewing its eligibility for its Generalized System of Preferences scheme, which reduces tariffs and supplies different commerce advantages for growing nations.

That might “portend future disruption” for Myanmar’s clothes sector, stated Steve Lamar, president of the American Attire & Footwear Affiliation, which represents greater than 1,000 style manufacturers.

However some unions representing garment staff have known as for the worldwide group to impose more durable sanctions to press the navy, though it might additional harm their business.

“I settle for orders transferring away,” Myo Myo Aye, founding father of the Solidarity Commerce Union of Myanmar, stated by means of a translator. “Staff would face difficulties and hardship as a result of there could be no jobs. Alternatively, we merely don’t settle for the navy regime.” ($1 = 1,400.0000 kyat) (Reporting by Chen Lin and John Geddie; Extra reporting by James Pearson in Hanoi, Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon and Elisa Anzolin in Milan; Modifying by Robert Birsel)


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In-depth reporting on the innovation financial system from The Logic, dropped at you in partnership with the Monetary Publish.


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