Myanmar may be an up-and-coming production hub for retailers, but the nation’s garment sector is tainted with labor abuse.
Over the past few years, Myanmar has gained momentum as a sourcing center for global apparel companies, including H&M and C&A, due to its favorable import and export tariffs and affordable workforce. According to Oxfam research, approximately 350,0000 workers were employed in Myanmar’s garment industry last year. As clothing brands continue to boost sourcing in Myanmar, the nation’s rampant labor abuse and lack of laws protecting workers remains a major dilemma.
The Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), in coordination with Action Labor Rights (ALR) and Labour Rights Defenders & Promoters (LDRP) recently released a report on labor abuse in Myanmar’s Garment Industry. In 2016, the organizations interviewed more than 400 garment workers from 12 factories in Myanmar. The interviews indicated multiple violations, including decreased unionization, low wages, child labor and minimal employment contracts.
According to the report, Myanmar’s labor laws are extremely limited. Although the laws have been improved since 2011, most still don’t prevent potential labor abuse.
The 2016 Factory Act, which was recently amended, now says the minimum age for employment is 14, not 13 years in Myanmar. Despite changes and restrictions on work hours, however, the Factory Act still doesn’t clarify the type of tasks allowed for young factory workers.
The Minimum Wage Law, which was adopted in 2013, also leaves room for labor abuse. Under the law, the minimum wage ($2.64 per day) is still not enough for living standards in Myanmar. The law’s policy on newly hired employees also enables businesses to pay 50 percent of the minimum wage to workers and then terminate them after the trial period, which could lead them to pay workers unfairly.
SOMO and the organizations indicated specific solutions for the ongoing labor abuse in Myanmar’s garment industry. In addition to collaborating with local authorities and human rights groups, apparel retailers were individually held responsible to enforce better labor regulations at their own Myanmar facilities.
Apparel retailers are advised to solely accept democratically elected unions for collective bargaining, to avoid discrepancies with freedom of association. To pay workers fairly, clothing companies are urged to advocate for a floor wage, in order to boost the minimum wage yearly and avoid unlawful wage deductions.
Although child labor remains prevalent in Myanmar’s garment industry, apparel retailers could conduct more age checks during the hiring process and ensure potential employees possess a valid National Registration Card (NRC) for proper age certification.
The organizations also suggested that clothing companies compose employment contracts in an easy to comprehend format and should omit abusive clauses to enforce proper hiring.
As Myanmar continues to be a major sourcing hub for apparel retailers, labor abuse could be curbed if these businesses, in collaboration with the government and human rights groups, work together to improve the lives of the nation’s garment workers.