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Myanmar Pledges to Improve Labor Conditions Under ILO Conventions

With Myanmar back in the running as a potential sourcing locale, the country is working to improve its labor conditions, which have kept manufacturers at bay in the past.

At a meeting this week, the country’s Minister of Labor, Aye Myint, pledged to begin implementing a ban on child labor–an issue that has plagued the country–by the end of the year, according to Myanmar’s Irrawaddy.

Last December, Myanmar’s Parliament ratified an International Labour Organization (ILO) convention that calls for immediate action to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labor, and the convention was passed into law Wednesday.

Aye Myint told members of Parliament, “We will prevent and take action on all worst forms of child labor and also arrange free basic education and rehabilitation for children,” according to a statement by the Federation of Trade Unions Myanmar (FTUM) released Thursday.

Htwe Htwe Thein, a spokesperson for FTUM stressed the need for child labor law reforms in the country, and said Labor Ministry officials have already received training on how to carry out a survey of child labor incidences, and will form a committee at the end of July to implement the convention. Thein noted, however, that the government should also put into place another ILO convention that would set a minimum age at which children can be legally employed or work.

Myanmar’s garment industry was one of its fastest growing sectors at its peak in the 90s and early 2000s, with exports reaching over $800 million in 2001, but growing human rights concerns put American brands under pressure, several fled and exports faltered.

The U.S. imported $1.96 million worth of apparel products from Myanmar in 2013, according to data from the Office for Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), and for the first four months of the year, apparel imports totaled $3.76 million.

Gap said last month that it would source garments from Myanmar, making it the first American retailer to do so since Western sanctions were eased two years ago. The retailer is sourcing product from two South Korean factories in the country, and Gap’s senior director of government and public affairs, Debbie Mesloh, said Old Navy and Banana Republic orders have already led to 700 new jobs in the sector.

Some say Gap’s entry into the country could signal a resurgence in manufacturing there, while others worry that Gap may be taking too big a gamble.

Mesloh, however stressed Gap’s eagerness about the foray into Myanmar and said the company could be a leader in the country’s manufacturing sector as it develops.