The British retail giant Marks and Spencer (M&S) is planning a “responsible exit” from Myanmar by March 2023, over concerns of widespread human rights violation in the country, evident by the military coup d’état, and brutal crackdown on the Rohingya community.
M&S published a statement on its web portal in this regard on Tuesday, adding that it will stop sourcing products from Myanmar by that deadline. Bangladesh’s readymade garment industry leaders are optimistic that the M&S move would open up a big opportunity for expansion.
The M&S statement read, “At Marks & Spencer, ethical trading is core to the way we do business. We have continued to monitor the market closely in Myanmar, through our partnership with the Ethical Trading Initiative, as well as on-the-ground audit process.
“The findings from the Myanmar Enhanced Due Diligence Sectoral Assessment demonstrate that it is impossible for our Global Sourcing Principles to be upheld.”
It continued, “We do not tolerate any human rights abuses within any part of our supply chain, and are now working towards a responsible exit from Myanmar, in line with our Responsible Exit Policy, which will see an exit by March 2023.”
The retailer also said over the next six months, it will continue to work closely with relevant stakeholders – including the Ethical Trading Initiative – throughout the consultation process, to ensure that our suppliers adhere to national laws and human rights are upheld.
M&S is also looking at what additional measures they can put in place to mitigate the effects of the decision on the individual workers in Myanmar.
A good news for Bangladesh
Exporters believe that M&S exit from Myanmar will be a boon to Bangladesh as the brand would relocate work orders here, as the country is producing quality and affordable clothing products.
Speaking to The Business Post, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Vice-President Md Shahidullah Azim said, “Whether the M&S will relocate work orders from Myanmar to Bangladesh will depend on the retailer’s willingness in the matter.”
Azim, also the managing director of Classic Fashion Concept, added, “But we will definitely get more work from the relocation as Bangladesh is the second largest exporter globally, and offers quality products at an affordable price.”
Meanwhile, BGMEA President Faruque Hassan said, “Marks and Spencer is one of the largest importers of apparel products, and it is gradually increasing sourcing from Bangladesh. We are closely working with the company to improve our share in their imports from global markets.
“Our focus is now in improving the quality of products and further diversification of apparel goods, so that Bangladesh can attract more buyers.”
He added, “Top officials of M&S will join the Made in Bangladesh Week event, set to be held in Dhaka this November. We will talk to them about sourcing more products from Bangladesh, by showcasing our development and innovation to them.”
Industry insiders say M&S source apparel goods worth around $1.4 billion from Bangladesh annually.
According to Eurocham’s data on Myanmar, the country’s garment industry grew significantly between 2012 and 2020, driven by exports focused heavily on the European Union (particularly Germany), USA, and Japan.
Between 2012 and 2018, the value of garment exports rose by 500 per cent, from around $0.9 billion to $4.6 billion by 2018. In 2019, the Myanmar apparel industry exported $5.7 billion worth of garments and a further $1 billion of footwear and handbags.