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Myanmar unions condemn EU garment sector initiative

18 April, 2023Trade unions in Myanmar condemn the EU-funded MADE in Myanmar project, which claims to support the garment manufacturing sector by replacing unions with employer-selected “workers’ representatives”. 

The Multi-Stakeholder Alliance for Decent Employment in the Myanmar Apparel Industry (MADE in Myanmar) claims to promote social dialogue and collective bargaining mechanisms. 

The initiative says it supports the development of worker-management committees and training and capacity-building for workers and factory management to improve communication and collaboration. However, this is impossible in a country where the military regime in place, since the coup in February 2021, has aggressively cracked down on unions.

In a letter to the European Union , the Myanmar Labour Alliance and others argue that the banning of independent trade unions in Myanmar makes a mockery of freedom of association, and MADE in Myanmar helps the military junta in its quest for legitimacy.

IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriALL Europe have also sent a letter to the European Union expressing concerns over the EU initiative:

“Employers take advantage of the political situation to deprive workers of their rights. Serious violations of human rights and labour rights continue in Myanmar.”

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.

The letter to the EU also emphasizes that:

“With the support of MADE in Myanmar, unrepresentative organisations, are registered under the union registration mechanism of the State Administrative Council (SAC). By creating workplace coordinating committees – with workers’ representatives vetted by the employer – MADE provides both employers and the SAC with propaganda designed to create the impression that social dialogue exists. This creates the false impression that Myanmar allows freedom of association, that unions are recognized, registered, and can operate freely, and that labour rights are protected.”

report commissioned by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in September 2022 shows that it is impossible for brands to conduct due diligence in Myanmar and adhere to globally recognized responsible business standards.

The message is very clear, the international trade union movement calls on EU to end its support for the SMART Myanmar / MADE in Myanmar programme.

“IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll European Trade Union express their strong opposition to the pretence by MADE in Myanmar to be protecting workers’ rights, and their activities which support and legitimize the SAC,”

says IndustriALL general secretary Atle Høie.