November, 17 1998 |  Share

U.S. Apparel Imports From Burma Soar, Despite Increased Repression and Sanctions



  • Retailers like Bradlees, J.C. Penney, Sears, Marshalls, and apparel companies such as Fashion Knitwear, One Step Up, Arrow, Karl Kani, Salmor--among others--continue to sell clothing made in Burma.
  • Apparel imports up 43 percent. U.S. apparel imports from Burma soared 43.4 percent in the first six months of 1998. This year U.S. companies will import more than $110 million of clothing made in Burma.
  • Four cent an hour wages and military control attract U.S. apparel companies. Garment workers in Burma earn just four cents an hour or $8.00 a month! The military is immediately brought in to suppress any worker grievances.
  • Propping up the dictators: Full foreign ownership of companies operating in Burma is illegal so all  U.S. apparel sourcing there must be done as a joint venture with the Burmese military. Money earned from garment exports to the U.S. goes directly to purchase weapons from China to repress the people of Burma. In fact, apparel production is one of the last profitable investments in Burma.
  • Avoiding U.S. government sanctions: U.S. companies avoided government sanctions prohibiting new investments in Burma by racing through new investment approvals in the weeks before the sanctions came into force in May 1997. To beat the deadline, in one month more new investments were registered than had been over the previous five years.
  • Terror and repression increase in Burma just as U.S. apparel imports soar: The Burmese military regime continues to rule through terror, forced labor, massive forced relocations, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, murder and ethnic cleansing. All human and political rights are denied. There are 1,200-2,000 political prisoners in Burma. The penalty for publicly criticizing the military junta is 20 years in prison.
  • Democracy movement calls for international sanctions: The Democracy movement in Burma, which has the overwhelming support of the people, as a last resort is calling for international economic sanctions to drive the military out and restore democracy and respect for human rights.
  • Especially during the Holiday Season, the American people would never willingly purchase clothing sewn with misery, torture and death in Burma. Only they do not know what conditions are and which companies are there.
  • U.S. Apparel companies will be targeted for a boycott: The National Labor Committee, working together with the Free Burma Coalition, and other religious, student, labor, human rights and solidarity organizations, will consult this week to decide which companies should be the target of a nationwide boycott--until they stop propping up the dictators in Burma.
  • The sad role of the U.S. apparel companies in Burma clearly demonstrates the need for full public disclosure of the names and addresses of the factories making the products we purchase. We need transparency in the global economy.


U.S. Apparel Imports From Burma Soar, Despite Increased Repression and  Sanctions 

    • U.S. Apparel Imports from Burma soared 43.4 percent in the first six months of 1998, growing from $38.7 million during the same period last year to $55.5 million this year. In 1998, U.S. companies will import more than $110 million (wholesale) of apparel made in Burma. U.S. companies this year will import more clothing from Burma--21 million garments--than they do from Brazil, Panama, Portugal, Germany, Russia, Japan and 28 other countries.
    • Between 1995 and 1998, U.S. apparel imports from Burma have doubled, expanding from $50 million in 1995 to over $110 million this year. Nearly 80 percent of total U.S. imports from Burma is comprised of apparel. (For example, in 1996, apparel accounted for $83.3 million of the $107.7 million total imports.)
    • Retailers like Bradlees, J.C. Penney, Sears, Marshalls and apparel companies such as Fashion Knitwear Group, One Step Up, Karl Kani, Arrow Shirt Company, By Design, Salmor Import Export Corp., Tanglewood Corp., Allura Imports, Dam Doo, M. Hidary among others continue to sell clothing made in Burma. (Company list attached.)
    • Even as the repression increased, U.S. apparel companies and China propped up the military dictators.  Full foreign ownership of companies operating in Burma is prohibited. All U.S. apparel sourced there must be done in joint ventures with the Burmese military through the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Company--which is run by the Defense Ministry's Directorate of Procurement. The Burmese military dictatorship uses the profits from the apparel exports to U.S. companies to purchase weapons from China. Since 1988, China has supplied the Burmese military with nearly $2 billion of weapons to repress and torture the people of Burma. There is no such thing as a clean U.S. company in Burma.
    • The Economic Intelligence Unit--a corporate research service--concluded in its July 27, 1998 report: "Perhaps the only remaining profitable investment in the country is the garment manufacturing sector."
    • American apparel companies are providing desperately needed foreign currency to prop up the dictators. So is China. In mid-1998, with the Burmese dictatorship facing a serious balance of payments deficit, China came to the rescue with an emergency $150 million loan to prop up the regime.
    • U.S. Companies Chasing Four Cent an Hour Wages and Military Repression.  Garment workers earn four cents an hour in Burma, or $8 a month.  At the first sign of unrest, the military is brought in to suppress any grievances or protests.

      "Myanmar's textile workers earn some of the world's lowest wages: U.S. $8 per month (for 45-hour work weeks), or about four U.S. cents per hour. Most of the foreign garment manufacturers are in joint venture with military-owned holding companies, labor problems at some joint venture factories have then sorted out by bringing in army officers to threaten strikers with arrest."

The Economic Intelligence Unit reported the following:

(July 27, 1998)



What happened to the U.S. government sanctions barring new investments in Burma?

On May 20, 1997, in response to rising repression, President Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting U.S. companies from making new investments in Burma. However, many U.S. companies avoided the sanctions by racing to win approval for new investments in Burma in the weeks before the deadline went into effect. In February 1997 alone, U.S. companies won approval for $338.5 million of new investments, which was more than the entire amount approved over the previous five year period.

As repression increases--what are the U.S. apparel companies doing in Burma?

The military regime's State Law and Order Restoration Council (renamed the State Peace and Development Council in November 1997) seized power in 1988 after murdering as many as 10,000 unarmed civilians who had taken to the streets to peacefully demonstrate calling for free democratic elections. Among those killed were many thousands of students.

Today the dictatorship spends more than twice as much on its 400,000-man army than it does on education and health combined. Only 1/3 of children finish four years of school. Since December 1996, nearly all the universities have been closed.

The 49 million people in Burma have no rights. The military regime rules through terror, forced labor, massive forced relocations, arbitrary detentions, torture, rape, executions, and ethnic cleansing.

Throughout 1998, the army arrested hundred of democracy movement activists. There are somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 political prisoners being held in Burma. National Democracy League member Daw San Saw was sentenced in 1998 to 25 years in prison for participating in a radio interview critical of the military junta.

Possession of an unlicensed fax machine is punishable with 15 years in prison ("computer science law").

Burma, the world's heroin capital, accounts for 2/3 of the heroin entering the United States.

Burmese Democracy Movement Calls for International Economic Sanctions

The National League for Democracy, and its leader Nobel Prize Laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is calling for international economic sanctions as a last resort to remove the brutal military regime. Archbishop Desmond Tutu agrees that economic sanctions are sadly the only language the military dictators will listen to.

(In the May 1990 elections, the National League for Democracy won 392, or over 80 percent, of the parliamentary seats, while the military front group, the National Unity Party, won only 10 seats. The military then prohibited the democratically elected parliament from taking office.)

Pressure From Consumers Works

In the past, the National Labor Committee was instrumental in "convincing" Disney, Liz Claiborne, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Warnaco to pull out of Burma until democracy and human rights are restored.

The Free Burma Coalition, working with human rights groups across the country, have successfully gotten Levi Strauss, Eddie Bauer, Reebok, Macy's, Osh Kosh B'Gosh, and J. Crew to leave Burma, rather than support the military dictators.

"Made in Thailand?"

U.S. apparel imports labeled "made in Thailand" may have been made by Burmese refugees forced to flee across the border into Thailand to escape military attacks. 110,000 Burmese refugees live along the boarder in Thailand, where garment factories have been set up. Abusing the vulnerability of the Burmese refugees, these garment factories pay less than the legal minimum wage in Thailand.



U.S. Companies Importing Apparel Made in Burma

  • Fashion Knitwear Group Ltd

(Note: On July 16 and Augst 20, 1998, Fashion Knitwear Group imported 56,670 women's blouses made in Burma, which had a wholesale value of $346,361. The clothing was made in the Taw Win Myanmar Factory (No. 41(A) Hlaing Thar Yar Industry Zone 1) in Yangon. These shipments went to Marshall's

  • One Step Up
  • Karl Kani
  • Arrow Shirt Company
  • By Design Inc.
  • Salmor Import Export Corp
  • Cherry Stix, Ltd
  • E.M. Lawrence Ltd.
  • Coronet Group
  • Strech-O-Rama, Inc.
  • Santana Ltd.
  • Mirage Group Elliot Kastle Inc.
  • Tanglewood Corp.
  • Allura Imports Inc.
  • Dam Doo Corp.
  • M. Hidary and Co, Inc.
  • Block Industries
  • Covington Industries
  • Snowmass Apparel Inc.
  • Leonard A. Feinberg Inc.

Freight Companies Listed as Cosignee for Clothing Imported from Burma

  • Freughtmen International Shipping Company Ltd.
  • Unlimited Express Corporation
  • King Internatioanl Inc.
  • Sea Trade International
  • Unipac Shipping Inc.
  • Keihin Ocean Line



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