TO THE RAG TRADE: GET OUT OF BURMA!
May 9, 2001
We are writing to you to demand that your company take immediate and concrete steps to end all ties to the military dictatorship of Burma, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), and all of its affiliated companies and organizations. Specifically, we are calling for an end to all retail of any products with a made in Myanmar or made in Burma label by May 27, 2001 the anniversary of Burmas annulled 1990 elections.
As you may know, Burma is ruled by one of the worlds most brutal military juntas. Human rights abuses such as murder, ethnic cleansing, torture, forced labor, and bonded child labor are commonplace. The junta annulled the results of the 1990 free and fair elections, and placed 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Winner and leader of the winning National League for Democracy party, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for six out of the past twelve years. In the past, the junta stated that she could face the death penalty for treason. A 1998 Commission of Inquiry by the International Labor Organization (ILO) issued a report revealing a saga of untold misery and suffering, oppression and exploitation of large sections of the population inhabiting Myanmar [Burma] by the Government, military and other public officers. Since then, the ILO has effectively expelled Burma and has issued a resolution calling for all ILO members to review their relations with Burma to ensure that they are not contributing to the system of rampant forced labor in the country.
You are probably aware that in 1997, President Clinton enacted a ban on new investment in Burma by U.S. corporations, declaring the drug trade and political situation in Burma to constitute a national emergency for the United States. Since that time, the Burmese junta has continued to profit from American business from the huge quantity of products being imported by U.S. businesses, especially of textiles. Apparel imports from Burma have increased by 272% since 1995 alone, thanks to companies like yours creating a significant source of revenue for this regime and helping them to cling on to their illegitimate power in the country.
Burmese textile factories are closely tied to forced labor. Many factories are owned by SPDC-affiliated companies, and profits from these factories facilitate the SPDCs projects in other areas which exploit forced labor. Profits from these companies also are used to purchase arms and military equipment used to enscript people into forced labor. Workers inside Burma have no labor rights. Trade union activists are routinely persecuted arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Consequently, labor rights within the factories are virtually nonexistent, and wages may be as low as four cents an hour (USD).
As if these were not enough reasons why your company should immediately end all sourcing from Burma, the textile industry there is also intimately tied to the massive illicit trade in narcotics, most notably of heroin. Wal-Mart Canada in particular was publicly embarrassed when it was exposed that they were buying Burmese clothing from Lo Hsing Han a notorious drug lord wanted by the DEA. Along with Khun Sa, Lo Hsing Han has personally been responsible for distributing significant quantities of the heroin used by U.S. citizens in the last few decades. It has been well documented that the third party companies in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and elsewhere that companies like Wal-Mart Canada use often serve as money-laundering agencies for drug money associated with the Burmese textile industry.
Clearly this could have a damaging effect on a companys profits and reputation.
When it was revealed that the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (part of the Pentagon) was sourcing clothing from Burma, they made the rapid decision to cut ties to Burma. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service recognized that these purchases undercut the spirit of the U.S. policy on Burma, and acted accordingly. We hope that your company will too.
Because of the urgency of this crisis, we demand that ALL items with a Made in Myanmar or Made in Burma label, or items that can otherwise be proven to have originated in Burma, be removed from your stores shelves no later than May 27, 2001. We demand a zero tolerance approach to drug money, to forced labor products, and to the continued assistance to an illegal and dangerous military regime that your company is providing by continuing to source from Burma. After May 27, we are prepared to launch campaigns against companies that do not cut ties to Burma, including consumer action, shareholder pressure, and greater media awareness of the issues involved.
We believe American consumers will not tolerate association with a pariah narco-dictatorship that denies free and fair elections, abuses human rights and restricts the freedoms of a Nobel Peace Laureate.
Please respond by May 27, 2001, to the address on the letterhead with the concrete steps that your company will take to end sourcing from Burma, including directives that you will be giving your purchasers to ensure that Burmese goods will no longer appear on your shelves.
Free Burma Coalition
Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE)
International Union of United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)
Campaign for Labor Rights
Canadian Friends of Burma
Alliance for Global Justice
Center for Economic Justice
Student Alliance to Reform Corporations (STARC) National Support Committee
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
The Asia-Pacific Environmental Exchange
Free Burma: No Petro-dollars
Nicaragua Center for Community Action
Unitarian Univeralist Social Justice Committee (Olympia, Washington)
Spartanburg Chapter of the Student Environmental Action Coalition
Sacramentans for International Labor Rights
Burma Action Committee, Portland Oregon
R & R Foundation
As You Sow Foundation
Companies to receive the letter:
Adidas America Inc./Intl Div
All Fashions Imports, Inc.
Ames Department Stores, Inc.
APPAREL ZONE Ltd.
B & B Sweater Mills
By Design LLC
Cherry Stix LTD
Cluett, Peabody & Co.
Costco Wholesale Corporation
Dress Barn, Inc
E.S. Sutton Inc.
Family Dollar Stores, Inc.
Federated Department Stores
Fila USA, Inc.
Forty Eight Hours Sportswear
Hampton Industries, Inc.
Ikea North America, L.L.C.
Jordache Ltd. Inc.
May Department Stores Company
Miss Erika, Inc.
Nautica Enterprises, Inc.
One Step Up, Ltd.
Parigi Group Ltd.
Stretch O Rama, Inc.
Sutton Creations, Inc
TJX Companies, Inc.
Tommy Hilfiger Corp.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Warner Bros. Studio Stores
Williams Sonoma, Inc.