SINGAPORE—A decade ago, as Myanmar was turning toward democracy from military rule, Western governments began dropping crippling sanctions—drawing fast-fashion labels to the country. Factories sprang up, employing hundreds of thousands of people making shirts and dresses for consumers in Europe and elsewhere.
Last week’s military coup threatens to turn back the clock. Factory owners fear political instability will push Western clients away, and that any Western efforts to pressure the generals by restoring broad sanctions or withdrawing trade preferences would be crushing.
“I am very afraid of going back to that time because I already know what the situation was like with sanctions,” says Aung Myo Hein, who opened a garment factory in Myanmar in 2013, when the European Union gave Myanmar’s garment exports duty-free access.
On Monday, protesters took to the streets to oppose the military’s seizure of power for a third straight day, with tens of thousands attending rallies and marches across the country. They included teachers, engineers, retail workers and others responding to calls by activists for a strike.
Only a third of the 1,200 people Mr. Aung employs reported for work on Monday, while others joined the demonstrations, he said.