Myanmar crisis sounds death knell for garment industry, jobs and hope

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

Enterprise had been struggling because of the Covid-19 pandemic, nonetheless after a Feb. 1 coup that sparked mass protests and a deadly crackdown, all through 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 by a sector necessary to Myanmar’s monetary system, which accounts for a third of its exports and employs 700,000 low-income employees, in step with UN information.

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

Li said he and plenty of his associates have been considering transferring to totally different low-cost garment hubs like China, Cambodia or Vietnam, as large development producers like H&M and Primark have stopped shopping for and promoting with Myanmar due to the coup.

Chinese language nationals like Li fund virtually a third of Myanmar’s 600 garment factories, in step with the Myanmar Garment Producers Affiliation, by far a very powerful investor group.

At the least two totally different Chinese language-funded garment factories in Myanmar, utilizing a blended 3,000 employees, had decided to close, said Khin Could Htway, managing confederate of MyanWei Consulting Group, which advises Chinese language patrons in Myanmar. She said the two companies have been her purchasers nonetheless declined to find out them citing privateness.

Overseas funding in garments surged in Myanmar over the earlier decade as monetary reforms, an end to Western sanctions and commerce affords helped arrange the sector as one of the best picture of its nascent emergence as a producing hub.

Myanmar garment shipments rose from decrease than $1 billion in 2011, about 10% of exports, to higher than $6.5 billion in 2019, about 30% of exports, in step with UN Comtrade information.

However the sector has been rocked by the pandemic which plunged the world into recession and choked shopper demand, resulting in tens of a whole bunch of garment manufacturing unit jobs misplaced in Myanmar and elsewhere in Asia.

Then the coup occurred.

Within the weeks that adopted, many garment employees joined protests or couldn’t get to work as streets turned battlegrounds. The turmoil moreover jammed the banking system and made it robust to get gadgets in and abroad, manufacturing unit householders said.

With worldwide condemnation of the coup rising, European and U.S. development producers remaining month issued a press launch via their associations saying they could defend jobs and honour commitments in Myanmar.

Nonetheless, many have these days halted orders there along with the world’s second-biggest development retailer, Sweden’s H&M, Britain’s Subsequent and Primark, and Italy’s Benetton.

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


In Vietnam, garment manufacturing unit proprietor Ravi Chunilal instructed Reuters he was starting to get additional enterprise from European patrons diverting from Myanmar.

“They don’t need to abandon Myanmar … but it surely’s being compelled upon them,” said Peter McAllister of Moral Commerce Initiative, a labour rights organisation whose members embrace European high-street producers.

McAllister said that it will likely be very robust for Myanmar’s garment sector to get higher if Chinese language patrons left.

Anti-China sentiment has risen as a result of the coup, with opponents of the takeover noting Beijing’s muted criticism in distinction with Western condemnation. It was in direction of this backdrop that quite a few Chinese language-funded factories, along with Li’s, have been torched by unidentified assailants all through a protest remaining month.

Rights groups have repeatedly raised points about exploitation in Myanmar’s garment sector, the place principally women employees earn as little as 4,800 kyat ($3.40) a day, the underside prices throughout the space.

Nevertheless it has provided an escape from poverty for a lot of, as employees have migrated from rural areas to the factories, primarily throughout the enterprise hub of Yangon, and despatched cash once more to their households.

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

That might result in “horrible outcomes of poverty”, he said, together with that he was moreover staying afloat on orders positioned sooner than the coup nonetheless feared orders for subsequent season, often due later this month, will dry up.

The USA, which has imposed centered sanctions on Myanmar’s navy, late remaining month suspended commerce talks with it and said it was reviewing its eligibility for its Generalized System of Preferences scheme, which reduces tariffs and affords totally different commerce benefits for rising nations.

That may “portend future disruption” for Myanmar’s garments sector, said Steve Lamar, president of the American Attire & Footwear Affiliation, which represents higher than 1,000 development producers.

However some unions representing garment employees have generally known as for the worldwide neighborhood to impose more durable sanctions to press the navy, regardless that it’d further harm their enterprise.

“I settle for orders shifting away,” Myo Myo Aye, founding father of the Solidarity Commerce Union of Myanmar, said via a translator. “Staff would face difficulties and hardship as a result of there can be no jobs. However, we merely don’t settle for the navy regime.”

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