The European Union is assessing human and labour rights in Myanmar, a European Commission spokesperson said on Thursday, leaving the door open to a possible change to the trade preferences it accords to the country.
The EU’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) scheme removes tariffs and quotas for all imports of goods except arms and ammunition coming into the bloc from 47 least developed countries including Myanmar.
Myanmar’s garment industry, a key employer in the impoverished country, exports clothes to major European brands including Adidas, H&M, and Zara-owner Inditex.
But H&M and Inditex have both recently said they would stop sourcing from the country where the ruling military junta has arrested trade union leaders and reports of labour abuses have multiplied.
“The EU is currently assessing the human rights and labour rights situation in Myanmar in the framework of the EBA enhanced engagement,” the Commission spokesperson said in an email in response to a Reuters query.
“Accordingly, the EU will continue to follow the situation closely and can where necessary adapt its policy,” the spokesperson said.
The EBA scheme supports the livelihoods of thousands of vulnerable workers in Myanmar, mostly women, the spokesperson added.
The EU has since 2013 funded projects aimed at improving labour conditions in Myanmar’s garment factories. The latest project, called MADE, counts 18 European brands as members.
A military junta took power in Myanmar in February 2021, plunging the country into political and humanitarian crisis.
Brussels began what it calls “enhanced engagement” with Myanmar in 2017 because of its shortcomings in human and labour rights. That includes additional monitoring and engagement with authorities, and can lead to the trade preferences being withdrawn.