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Triumph hits back at critics

Rush-hour in Myanamar - the ILO wants companies to pull out of the country Keystone

Triumph International has slammed debate about its role in Myanmar as "schizophrenic" following the company's decision to pull out of the country.

Swiss-based Triumph announced at the end of January that it was halting production and laying off 1,000 workers in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

The announcement came after increasing pressure on the garment manufacturer from unions and non-governmental organisations over the human rights situation in the South-East Asian country.

The Geneva-based International Labour Organization, which has called for sanctions against Myanmar, says there are about one million forced laborers in the country.

Job losses

In an interview with swissinfo, Wolfgang Spiesshofer, one of the firm’s directors, attacked the company’s critics. He said he could not understand why opponents would want to see hundreds of people out of work.

“I think personally the situation is a little bit schizophrenic,” explained Spiesshofer. “The organisations that claim we must close this operation in Myanmar also claim at the same time that it is a pity that so many people are losing their jobs.”

“These organisations are normally asking or requesting that social standards are looked after, that we have very good working conditions and that we have a good salary,” added Spiesshofer. “But they are also asking to put people out on the street and this is something I cannot understand.”

In an attempt to avoid laying off staff in Myanmar, Triumph held negotiations with interested parties for several months. Despite intensive efforts, no buyer could be found.

Help for employees

As a result, Triumph decided to gradually wind down production. The company says it is working on a social plan to help employees affected by the closure.

Triumph was founded in Germany back in 1886 supplying lingerie to the British market. Since then, the Spiesshofer and Braun families have run it for more than a century.

The issue of inheritance tax used to give the founding families more than a few headaches. But these have been resolved since the group moved its corporate headquarters to Switzerland in the 1970s.

“One of the reasons we’re here is the tax structure, which is more favourable than in Germany,” noted Spiesshofer.

He added that in the future the company would be focusing on the expanding “Russian and Chinese markets”.

by Tom O’Brien

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR