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Swiss-based lingerie firm draws protests

The poster used by Burma Campaign UK is aimed at persuading consumers to boycott Triumph products.

A British based human rights group is behind a new campaign to boycott products of the Swiss-based lingerie company Triumph.

Triumph International, one of Europe’s leading lingerie manufacturers, has come under renewed attack by several NGOs and human rights groups in recent weeks because one of its garment factories is located in Myanmar (formerly Burma), a country criticized for its human rights record.

“Support breasts, not dictators”

The latest campaign is called “support breasts, not dictators” featuring a picture of a woman in a barbed-wire bra is spearheaded by the British human rights group, Burma Campaign UK. It is calling on Triumph to pull out of Myanmar and on retailers to freeze all Triumph orders until the company withdraws from the country.

“There is significant pressure on business operations in Burma at the moment because of the International Labour Organisation’s resolution of November 2000,” Yvette Mahon, the director of the British organisation told swissinfo. “It has called for all international governments and companies to review their relations in Burma to make sure that they in no way foster or abet the use of forced labour in the country.”

She added that in the case of Triumph there are reports that forced labour was used during the upgrade of its factory site. She also said that child labour had been used, in some cases children “as young as six” had worked on the factory modifications.

Triumph defended its factory by saying that it employed 1000 people.

“We have decided to maintain the economic resources for 1000 people.” Aloys Hirzel, a spokesman for the company, told swissinfo. “A thousand people, which are working for Triumph in Burma means a thousand families [are supported].”

Poverty Wage

But Burma Campaign UK says that Triumph only pays its workers SFr470 per year ($287) or SFr1.5 per day.

“The United Nations calls this level of pay an extreme poverty wage,” Mahon said. “Triumph are there for the cheapest labour going and for a compliant work force. Protest is banned in Burma.”

She explained that in some foreign factories any form of protest has been broken up at gunpoint by the military authorities.

Misleading accusations

Triumph expressed frustration at the accusations over pay, saying that Burma Campaign UK’s comments were misleading.

“This kind of accusation is exactly what you shouldn’t communicate,” said Hirzel, pointing out that the wages Triumph pays are relative to the cost of living in Burma.

He says the Triumph wage is comparable to that received by employees in public administration.

However, unlike Triumph, a number of other multinationals have pulled out of the region in the past decade. These include Pepsi, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger and Sara Lee.

“For the time being, we have no intention to change our strategy in Myanmar,” Hirzel told swissinfo.” But of course we will try to solve problems as far as we can influence them.”

The Triumph plant, which opened in 1996, employs 1,000 people to produce garments for the Asian market.

by Billi Bierling and Sally Mules

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR