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Myanmar Takes Strides to Improve Compliance in its Textile Sector

Myanmar is continuously working to banish the unfavorable image of its textile industry and improve the sector in order to sustain substantial business. At the end of March, the nation will hold a roundtable discussion about the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association’s (MGMA) new Code of Conduct and social compliance standards.

MGMA and SMART Myanmar, an organization that promotes and supports the sustainable production of “Made in Myanmar” garments, will host 17 European companies for seminars in Yangon, and business matchmaking with garment factories. The associations will also hold talks with factories regarding next steps for implementing the recently ratified Code of Conduct in order to determine how EU companies can be a positive force for improvement in the industry.

The MGMA, which represents nearly 300 factories in Myanmar, released the first ever Code of Conduct for the country’s apparel sector last month as a guide for informing best practices and responsible corporate behavior.

Win Ei Khine, MGMA board member and executive director of Maple Trading Co., a Myanmar manufacturer said at the time of the guideline’s release, “We’ve always run our factory in what we felt was a responsible manner, but there are some shortcomings that need to be addressed. For instance, employee contracts are important but they’re not always a part of Burmese business culture. Some factories need to improve this, just like some still need to make sure there is always an adequate fire safety plan and that working hours don’t exceed the maximum allowed by law. MGMA has developed this Code of Conduct as a guide for our industry to help us all reach to international standards.”

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According to Jacob A. Clere, project manager for Sustainable Consumption and Production at MGMA, the country’s apparel sector currently employs at least 300,000 workers, more than 200,000 of which work at MGMA member factories.

And though still in its nascent stages, Clere said Myanmar’s garment sector is growing rapidly.

“Basically, we’ve been seeing more than one garment factory open its doors each week for several months now (and this doesn’t include the footwear and accessories industries, which are also growing),” he said. “As such, apparel product types and production options available in Myanmar are significantly more diverse than they were even a year ago.”

Generally, more labor-intensive goods are made in Myanmar where workers earn an average $80 per month — just a bit above Bangladesh’s $68. Myanmar’s biggest specialties are jackets and outerwear, though casual trousers, skirts, blouses and baby apparel products are also produced there. Of the newest factories, most are producing for the EU market, many making knitwear like sweaters, scarves, hats and gloves.

“Myanmar’s industry is increasingly establishing itself as a good production base for medium-quality sportswear and fashionable jackets and coats,” Clere said.

SMART Myanmar said in a statement this week that corporate social responsibility is “crucial” for Myanmar, not only because brands want to see compliance that jives with international standards, “but also because better working conditions encourage factory workers to be more motivated and satisfied in their jobs, which itself results in improved factory productivity.”