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H&M, Inditex Sign ‘Framework for Action’ to Protect Myanmar Garment Workers

Some of the world’s biggest fashion brands have signed a “framework for action” aimed at protecting Myanmar’s garment workers from the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar, an affiliate of IndustriAll Global Union, announced Thursday it had inked an agreement with ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation), an Ethical Trading Initiative-affiliated program that tackles the issue of living wages in garment supply chain.

Bestseller (which as late as last week was engaged in a dispute with some of its suppliers), H&M, Zara owner Inditex, Next and Tchibo are among the ACT participants that have endorsed the framework. ACT members that have not thrown in their support include Asos, Topshop parent Arcadia Group, C&A, Esprit, Primark, New Look and Tesco.

Some 100,000 garment workers in Myanmar are expected to benefit from the measures agreed to by brands and employers, including cooperating in “good faith” to secure workplace health and safety and mitigating the economic fallout of the crisis on factories and workers.

Specific actions involve engaging with relevant organizations to mobilize resources for covering workers’ salary losses from April to July and supporting International Labour Organization research to identify the necessary funding for those losses. Parties have also agreed to support the development of social protection floors—which is to say, defined sets of basic social security guarantees—to extend social safety nets for workers and promote compliance with health and safety regulations, such as ACT’s Myanmar freedom of association guidelines.

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Employers have pledged to promote safe and healthy workplaces based on COVID-19-mitigating recommendations set by the Myanmar government, to actively engage in dialogue with workers on their business strategy in response to the pandemic, and work on possible joint measures to blunt the sharpest edges of the crisis.

In addition, endorsing brands have committed to paying manufacturers for finished goods and goods in production while maintaining “quick and effective” open lines of communication with supply-chain partners about the status of business operations and longer-term plans.

“This agreement is a concrete framework for further joint action to address the impacts of the next phase on factories and workers,” IndustriAll assistant general secretary Jenny Holdcroft said in a statement. “We call upon all employers and brands sourcing in Myanmar to endorse it.”

News of the framework comes on the heels of reports that certain Myanmar suppliers to brands such as Mango and Zara are seizing advantage of the pandemic to crack down on freedom of association and bust unions.

Myanmar’s garment industry, whose 600 factories employ 700,000 workers, made $4.6 billion last year, or roughly 10 percent of the country’s total export revenues.