H&M criticized for young workers, forced overtime in Myanmar factories
Fast-fashion retailer H&M had apparel produced in Myanmar factories where children as young as 14 worked more than 12 hours a day, according to a new book, “Fashion Slaves,” being published in Sweden next week.
The authors of the book spoke with 15-year-old girls who’d been working long hours at the Myanmar Century Liaoyuan Knitted Wear and Myanmar Garment Wedge factories for two years, and other researchers in Myanmar told the Guardian that forced overtime and low pay is a problem there.
H&M has “taken action” with both factories, but defended the age of the workers in a statement issued to the Guardian, explaining "When 14– to 18-year-olds are working it is therefore not a case of child labor, according to international labor laws. [The International Labour Organization] instead stresses the importance of not excluding this age group from work in Myanmar. H&M does of course not tolerate child labor in any form.”
Myanmar, home of a once-thriving garment industry, is seen as having less stringent rules on working conditions than in Bangladesh, where a 2013 fire killed more than a thousand garment workers and set off an international public outcry about worker safety. Last year, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) set a minimum wage of 3,600 kyat ($2.80) for an eight-hour work day. That’s $67 a month, based on a six-day work week, among the lowest in the world.
Many apparel retailers that have not signed an international accord to address factory problems and worker safety issues abroad have come under severe criticism from activists. Employing children 14 to 17 years old is legal for “light work,” but such long days are against international law and Myanmar law, and would preclude children from attending school.
The Guardian contacted several British retailers including Marks & Spencer, New Look and Primark who said they didn’t use the factories cited in "Fashion Slaves," and Tesco said it didn’t allow child labor. H&M, for its part, said the situation was “unacceptable,” according to the Guardian.
“It is of utmost importance to us that our products are made under good working conditions and with consideration to safety, health and the environment. We have therefore taken action regarding two suppliers in Myanmar which have had problems with ID-cards and overtime," H&M said.
“I am not hugely surprised these problems are happening given the scale of disempowerment of workers in Myanmar,” Oxfam labor expert Erinch Sahan told the Guardian.
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