Some Pride-themed merchandise is being produced in countries where homosexuality is criminalized or where anti-LGBTQ persecution is common, reports The New York Times.
The demand for Pride- or rainbow-themed articles of clothing and accessories always rises during June, which is recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month and commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that are credited with sparking the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.
But some retailers, including H&M, Primark, Target, and Levi Strauss, have recently attracted scrutiny for manufacturing said merchandise in countries that are hostile to LGBTQ people.
For example, Primark’s products are manufactured in countries like China, Turkey, and Myanmar. Homosexuality is legal in China but carries a strong societal stigma. In Turkey, LGBTQ activists report being persecuted amid a crackdown by the Turkish government that seeks to silence dissidents, leftists, intellectuals, and other political opponents, including LGBTQ rights activists. In Myanmar, homosexuality is illegal, and those who are openly gay can be imprisoned for a period of time ranging from 10 years to life.
“One of the Primark T-shirt printed in Myanmar says ‘Love Is Love,'” notes Steve Taylor, a board member of the European Pride Organizers Association. “Well, no, it’s not if you live in Myanmar.”
But most corporations have defended their decision to do business in said countries, noting that they have formed long-term relationships with manufacturers in those countries. Additionally, those corporations also cloak themselves as defenders of LGBTQ rights by donating a portion of their proceeds to, or partnering with, LGBTQ nonprofits or charities.
For instance, Primark told the Times in a statement that the company takes LGBTQ rights “very seriously,” and is donating 20% of the proceeds from its Pride products to Stonewall, the largest LGBTQ charity in Europe.
In turn, a representative for Stonewall said that international businesses often operate in countries “where the context for LGBT people can be challenging.” It also claims that the money from Primark will be used to push for greater protections or nondiscrimination laws in countries like Turkey.
Similarly, H&M contributes 10% of the proceeds from its Pride line to United Nations Free & Equal, a global LGBTQ advocacy group.
H&M defends producing its Pride-themed products in China, Turkey, Bangladesh, and India — the latter two which have laws criminalizing homosexuality.
“We have made products in these countries for a long time,” a company representative told the Times in a statement, “and this collection is made by suppliers we have worked with for many years.”
Dean Malka, the president of Swish Embassy, a Toronto-based clothing company that markets itself to gay men, says that his company manufactures its clothing in countries with LGBTQ protections, including the United States, Great Britain, and Latvia. But he says he is “bothered” by the idea that other companies may be producing their goods in countries hostile to LGBTQ rights.
“If a company like ours can make the right choices to source from countries with at least basic protections for LGBT rights, I don’t see why they couldn’t,” he adds.