Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Triumph leaves Burma with 1000 job losses

March 2002

A ‘social plan’ to help reduce the impact of redundancies is being drawn up by Europe’s largest lingerie manufacturer, Triumph International, after an announcement that it will pull out of Burma.

The Swiss-based company is closing its only factory in the country, north of Rangoon, with the loss of 1000 jobs after pressure from human rights campaigners opposed to its presence there.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is ruled by a military junta which has been regularly condemned for human rights abuses, including the use of forced labour.

Triumph said the decision to end production at its Burma site ‘was prompted by a public debate in Europe about the political situation in Burma – a debate that has become increasingly emotional and that has led to planning uncertainties which Triumph can no longer accept’.

The company claims that in a bid to prevent redundancies it has made ‘intensive efforts’ to find a buyer for the plant in recent months, but no one has shown interest.

‘We have therefore decided in consultation with our European works council to gradually close down the production over the next four months,’ it said.

‘We are working on a social plan which will consist of some form of compensation to help the employees affected by this closedown.’ Triumph said it could not give details of the plan as this was still being discussed with workers.

Burma Campaign UK welcomed Triumph’s decision to introduce the social plan, but said: ‘We believe Triumph should give its workers a generous redundancy package. If they gave every worker a year’s salary that would still not amount to much.’

Richard Jones, a consultant with First & 42nd and former global social responsibilities manager at Premier Oil, said he was worried about the impact of disinvestment on local people.

Jones, who lived in the country for four years, claimed the move was unlikely to make any difference to the situation in Burma. ‘The International Labour Organization says economic development is needed to ease the pressure for forced labour in Burma and that means there’s a need for responsible investment.

‘It’s a chicken and egg situation: if companies are moving out, how do we break this cycle?’

Burma Campaign UK said it had decided to follow up Triumph’s decision by writing to all clothing retailers in the UK asking for assurances that they don’t source from Burma.

‘We are investigating new targets in the clothing industry,’ it told EP.

Triumph has operated in Burma since 1996, but came under increasing pressure in the past year, with pressure groups holding action days in Europe and an advertising campaign that featured a model clad in a bra made out of barbed wire.

Support for the campaign comes from the exiled trade union federation of Burma, which argues that foreign investment there ‘makes it much more difficult for the democratic forces to persuade the generals to step aside’.

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