According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, a big Australian fashion company that owns iconic brands including Millers and Katies has stopped sourcing products from Burma in response to Australian Council of Trade Unions/Burma Campaign Australia pressure. The relevant press release is available here. Trumpeting this success, Burma Campaign Australia spokesperson, Zetty Brake, argued that, “Corporate Australia needs to put people before profits and do the right thing by the people of Burma and withdraw”. As part of the “Don’t deal with Burma” campaign they are suggesting a range of steps for heaping further pressure on Australian companies that continue to do business in the country.

I remain unpersuaded that such a sanctions push, particularly at this late hour, does anything but reinforce the “limited, Western, symbolic” character of so much of our Burma policy.

According to its 2009 Annual Report, Specialty Fashion Group (the owner of Millers, Katies, etc.) had revenue of over half a billion dollars in each of the past two years. That is a proverbial truckload of “multi-branded women’s apparel”. I would be fascinated to learn what proportion of this revenue came from the sale of products made in Burma. If any New Mandala readers can point to some numbers I would be very appreciative. I think we should try to find out –is this step from Specialty Fashion Group anything but symbolic?

And if it isn’t, if there is, in fact, some practical value in this move; then how many Burmese Mums and Dads will be looking for work in the months ahead? Are their factories going to fall on even harder times now that Australian consumers aren’t buying their products? We must remember that they didn’t vote for the Burmese military government either.

Success in a pro-sanctions campaign of this sort is, dare I say, hard to measure.