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MARCH 25, 2003
12:13 PM
CONTACT:  Free Burma Coalition
Jeremy Woodrum, 202-547-5985
US Consumers Successfully “De-Pants” Burma’s Junta;
New Data Shows Clothing Imports Plummet $100 Million as 39 Retailers Ban Retail of Products from Burma over Rights Concerns
WASHINGTON - March 25 - According to newly released statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, apparel imports from the Southeast Asian country of Burma dropped by 27% between 2001 and 2002, from $411 to $303 million. The sharp decrease resulted from the almost-unprecedented decision by 39 major U.S. retailers to forgo doing business with the Burmese military junta, which is known for horrific human rights abuses including torture, the use of rape as a weapon of war, the recruitment of more child soldiers than any other country in the world, and the use of forced labor and forced child labor in the construction of apparel manufacturing zones.

“We believe that the decision by so many powerful companies to refuse to import goods from a country based on human rights concerns is probably unprecedented,” says Aung Din, a former political prisoner and torture survivor who now serves as Director of Policy at FBC.

The 39 companies include Wal-Mart, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Jones New York, and Federated Department Stores, owner of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. The Free Burma Coalition estimates that these companies sold $381 billion in goods last year, putting a huge chunk of the U.S. retail market off-limits to goods made in Burma. Many companies acknowledge that human rights conditions in Burma make doing business there socially irresponsible: “what is going on there [in Burma] is a violation of the philosophy and spirit of our vendor supplier code of conduct,” said a Federated spokesperson in the Los Angeles Times. Since January 2003, 4 more companies have announced a ban on Burma products, including Saks Incorporated and Mothers Work, the largest U.S. maternity-wear retailer.

“One of the only major U.S. retailers still selling Burma products is May Department Stores,” Aung Din says. “We don’t understand why May won’t take a stand for human rights when so many other companies are banning clothes from Burma.” May, which had $13.5 billion in 2002 sales, owns 14 mega-chains including Lord & Taylor, Hechts, Strawbridges, and Foley’s.

Burma’s 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi has called for companies to avoid the country, saying that sanctions “send a strong economic and political message” to the military regime. In its latest report on human rights in Burma, the U.S. State Department stated: “Forced labor, including forced child labor, has contributed materially to the construction of industrial parks subsequently used largely to produce manufactured exports including garments.”


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