WASHINGTON — U.S. and Canadian apparel retailers and importers will be urged today to stop buying clothes from Burma in statements by Labor Secretary Robert Reich and in a separate report by Canadian human rights activists.
Burma has long been cited for having an oppressive military regime with financial ties to its apparel industry. U.S. human rights activists, joined by socially responsible investment groups, for several years have been lobbying apparel importers to cut all ties to the country. The U.S. under the Clinton and Bush administrations, has cited Burma for its human and labor rights violations in refusing to grant it preferential tariff breaks offered developing countries.
Reich, has set up a conference call today with reporters to discuss Burma’s apparel industry and its reported use of child labor and financial connections with the military. The state of Burma’s garment industry was addressed in a recent report on child labor at foreign apparel factories released by the agency, prompting the secretary to speak out against the country, a Labor spokeswoman said.
Only a small amount of apparel imported to the U.S. comes from Burma, about $65 million worth in 1995, but that is up from $6.5 million in 1988. Calls to the embassy here for Burma — or Myanmar, as the government calls the country — were not returned.
In a related but separate action, Canadian Friends of Burma are scheduled to release a report in Toronto, “Dirty Clothes, Dirty System, How Burma’s Military Dictatorship Uses Profits from the Garment Industry to Bankroll Oppression.”