You’ve probably heard the news from Myanmar. The military has seized the power after the elections claiming based on fraud allegations. As far as I’ve learned, the country had problems with democracy before this coup. Once colonized, still some ministries controlled by the military and a significant portion of deputies are regularly attained, not elected. However, I’m not gonna handle this subject today. I’ve read Sheng Lu’s article A Snapshot of Myanmar’s Apparel Industry and Export and I thought we can collectively think about fashion, democracy and development. Let’s get started!
Firstly, I’ll give a brief summary of Lu’s article. He refers to the fact that textile and apparel industry plays an important role in Myanmar’s economy. According to UNComtrade’s data textile and apparel accounted for nearly 30% of Myanmar’s total merchandise exports in 2019. It’s too much to ignore. However, textile and apparel are labor-intensive industries and developing countries are the prouduction centers for such businesses. So Myanmar is not an exception. Lu also indicates that the country has started to attract more attention since 2013 when the US lifted import ban on the country and the EU reinstated the Everything But Arms trade preferences. Brands like Mango, Only, United Colors of Benetton, and Guess. However, it’s important to remind that Myanmar is not a huge country with a huge population. Lu also reminds that as of 2019, less than 0.1% of US and EU countries’ apparel imports came from Myanmar.
What Lu underlines and I find the most interesting is the estimations about how Western fashion brands could reevaluate their sourcing from Myanmar after the coup. He mentions GlobalData sourcing criteria database and how political stability is important for the brands. From a very classical economist view, stability is important for foreign investors as much as the citizens especially in a developing country like Myanmar where export-based industries are this important for the economy and national income. No matter you believe in classical economist views or green or purple, political stability is a very basic must for fashion investors as well. We have different motives and different expectations after that stability is set anyway.
So, even the harsh capitalist climate needs a sprinkle of democracy and freedoms. It’s important to note that political stability does not equal to democracy. There can be a tyranny but a stable one, that wouldn’t be a big problem for Western brands. Let’s be honest here. I’m the one who’s adding this sprinkle of democracy and freedoms to the recipe of political stability. The word democracy literally means the rule of people, as the word is the combination of the words demos -people- and kratos-rule- in Greek. Democracy; however, is not practised today as it was in Athens. We don’t come together in a room or open air theatre and vote for things by our hands.
So I underline democracy in apparel intensive countries in two ways. At macro level, I believe that basic democratization requirements such as free elections and freedom of speech for every citizen are quite important for general wellbeing of the population+national development. At micro level, I exactly mean the rule of people and their direct participation in decision making. They are the creators. Their labour is what turns fresh crop from the field into fashion! Yet they are treated as slaves. In many developing countries, workers are not allowed to take part in unions, negaotiate for wages or working hours. Whenever they are fed up and rise against, they are mostly silenced through force. This is not acceptable. If we cannot accept this in our own country, and when we’re restrained from using our rights; then we cannot accept it where our clothes are made.
Out of sight, out of mind. We eat meat without ever thinking that this was once a living being. We cannot stand this thought let alone watching it on a documentary or seeing it happening near. Same goes for fashion sometimes. People are forced, impaired, locked but we don’t mind as long as we don’t know. What if we choose not to learn? In 2021, in a digital world everyone is broadcasting from their houses, how can you not know anything about this undemocratic sides to fashion? Maybe you should turn over and look closer.