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As junta charges organising workers with incitement, Inditex plans phased exit from Myanmar

Following international condemnation of the Myanmar junta’s treatment of garment workers, the Inditex Group of Companies, which makes clothing for Zara and other global brands, announced last week that they plan to leave the country.

A spokesperson for Inditex told the New York-based trade publication Sourcing Journal on June 22 that the Spain-based manufacturing conglomerate would implement a plan to decrease the number of its products made in Myanmar incrementally before ultimately ceasing all operations there. The spokesperson did not give an expected date for Inditex’s final exit.

Employees at Hosheng Myanmar, a garment factory owned by Inditex in Yangon’s Shwepyithar Township, were fired on June 10 after attempting to negotiate higher wages. Thu Thu San, a 29-year-old member of Hosheng Myanmar’s workers’ union, was arrested by the military on June 14, four days after her dismissal.

Thu Thu San’s fellow Hosheng Myanmar employees Aye Thandar Htay, Thandar Aye, May Thu Min and Aung Aung had also been arrested by June 18. The junta also detained three people suspected of assisting the organising workers: Thandar Soe Linn, Phyo Myat Myat Thin, and Hein Min Zaw.

In the following days, the European Union delegation in Myanmar and the international labour federation IndustriALL Global Union issued statements condemning the arrests of Thu Thu San and the other garment workers, expressing concern for their safety and calling for their release.

A trial for the detainees began at the Shwepyithar Township Courthouse on June 26. The defendants were charged with incitement under Section 505a of the Penal Code, according to a personal associate of the workers who requested anonymity out of concern for his safety.

“They weren’t even politically active at all. To be charged under Section 505 is absurd,” the man said.

He added that a military court would oversee the detainees’ trials but that he did not know whether they would face additional charges. Shwepyithar Township is currently under martial law.

A statement released by the military council via pro-junta newspapers on Thursday confirmed that the detainees would be charged under the incitement law.

Thidar Win and Hlaing Win Htet, two workers at the Sun Apparel Myanmar garment factory in Yangon’s Hlaingtharyar Township, were also arrested in June after attempting to organise for a raise.

Despite severe inflation and initial plans to adjust the minimum wage every two years, the legal wage for an eight-hour workday has not changed since the pre-coup National League for Democracy government raised it to 4800 kyat (US$3.50 at the time) in 2018.

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) issued a statement in September 2022 arguing that basic standards for labour rights no longer had force in Myanmar, and that it was no longer possible to ensure humanitarian accountability in the country’s garment industry.

Multinational retail firms C&A, Tesco PLC, Marks & Spencers, Primark and Uniqlo have also announced their exits from Myanmar since the February 2021 military coup.

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