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Human rights due diligence is not possible in Myanmar

1 May, 2023More than two years after the military coup in Myanmar, the situation for the people, and the workers, is getting worse. May Day is a day when we raise our voices for workers’ rights and against violations – human rights due diligence is not possible under Myanmar’s military dictatorship and companies must plan a responsible exit from the country.

After the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021, IndustriALL supported a call by Myanmar unions for all multinational companies operating in the country to divest. Companies maintaining operations in the country are unwilling accomplices to a growing humanitarian crisis and are de facto funding the military’s war on its own people, recently through airstrikes killing more than 100 people.

The situation continues to deteriorate. Unions have been outlawed and with no mechanism to help workers and no freedom of association, workers are in a very vulnerable situation. Violations against workers are increasing, as is wage exploitation, forced labour and harassment against women. The military has cracked down on unions and its members, with violent attacks and arrests. More than 60 trade unionists are imprisoned on trumped up charges, who must be immediately released.

The EU-funded MADE in Myanmar project, which claims to support the garment manufacturing sector by replacing unions with employer-selected “workers’ representatives, is worrying. Employers take advantage of the political situation to deprive workers of their rights and allows serious violations of human rights and labour rights continue in Myanmar while helping the military gain legitimacy.

Freedom of association is a fundamental human right and a fundamental EU principle, the restrictions on unions and the right to collective bargaining in Myanmar under the military regime are a serious concern which puts the legitimacy of this EU initiative into question.

Investments have long-term impacts on labour rights. All companies should leave Myanmar to cut off funds to military. Planning a responsible exit is the only position consistent with upholding global human rights standards. Due diligence is not possible under a military dictatorship and in a state of civil war.