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Myanmar’s Garment Sector Could be Vastly Improved in Three Years

A consortium of government organization, labor groups and academia has launched a three-year project in Myanmar with the purpose of improving the work environment in the country’s garment sector, including job creation, more sustainable and efficient productivity and greater community relations.

The project will take place in 12 factories supplying Western brands, including Danish fashion retailer Bestseller, according to the Danish Ethical Trading Initiative (DETI), which is coordinating the project in collaboration with the British Ethical Trading Initiative, Danish trade union 3F, and Aalborg University in Denmark, with the backing of the Danish Market Development Partnerships Fund.

DETI said the project, which will run to the end of 2020, supports the democratic transformation in Myanmar, including a long-term effort to increase competitiveness and strengthen respect for human and labor rights in the country’s textile and garment sector.

While Myanmar’s move to democracy after years of military rule resulted in the country holding its first nationwide election late last year, won in a landslide by Suu Kyi, problems persist as it seeks to lure foreign economic investment.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, considered one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, have fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh since August. The government of Myanmar, a predominately Buddhist country, claims the Rohingya people are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and has denied them citizenship, leaving them stateless. The Rohingya—who have their own language and culture—say they are descendants of Muslim traders who have lived in the region for generations.

[Read more about Myanmar’s growth: Myanmar Signs Trade Agreement with EU Chamber of Commerce]

In November 2016, the U.S. re-designated the country, formerly known as Burma, as eligible for the General System of Preference program.

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While U.S. trade with Burma remains small, since the initial lifting of sanctions, it has grown significantly. In 2016, two-way goods trade was $438 million, with U.S exports totaling $194 million, having almost quadrupled since 2012, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.

“The purpose of the effort is to improve the efficiency, quality and working environment of textile production, and increase knowledge of human and labor rights and social dialogue for the benefit of both social and economically sustainable development of the industry,” DETI said. “The project’s results will be used to develop a defined business case that can be used to spread experience to companies and employees throughout the textile industry in Myanmar. At the same time, the project contributes to the UN’s World Social, Economic and Environmental Sustainable Development Strategy.”

The domestic stakeholders in the project are SMART Myanmar, Yangon Technological University and local trade unions, Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar and UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey project.