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Responsible business not possible in Myanmar: report

16 September, 2022A long-awaited independent report has confirmed IndustriALL Global Union’s position that it is not possible to conduct responsible business in Myanmar. IndustriALL has written once again to brands sourcing from Myanmar, urging them to begin negotiations on a responsible exit.

The report, commissioned by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), finds that it is impossible for brands to conduct due diligence in Myanmar and adhere to globally recognized responsible business standards. The ETI is a multi-stakeholder body, made up of trade unions, NGOs and companies. Members of the ETI include H&M, Inditex, Primark, Lidl and New Look, companies which have maintained production in Myanmar despite repeated calls by local unions and IndustriALL to divest.

The report highlights that the military regime perpetrates crimes against humanity and has a track record of human rights abuses, including forced labour, child labour, gender-based violence and war crimes. Within 14 days of the coup in February 2021, the regime changed the law to suspend human rights and track and detain dissidents.

In this context, it is not possible for global brands to perform due diligence. There is no freedom of association: trade unions and other workers’ organizations cannot function, even at factory level, and the military regime has actively tried to dismantle the trade union movement and other democratic structures. Trade unions have been banned, and 301 union leaders have been arrested, 55 have been killed, and there are arrest warrants for 27 union executive committee members.

Forced labour is widespread, including forced unpaid overtime which requires workers to travel home after curfew, putting them in danger from the military, police and criminal gangs. There is at least one reported case of a woman worker being raped on her way home from work. The situation is exacerbated by a rapidly expanding incidence of precarious work and collapsing wages, which leaves even those in full time employment unable to meet their needs.

There is no access to remedy, because the activities of the ILO and other UN agencies and international bodies have been severely curtailed. Many organizations, including the ACT initiative, have ceased operating in Myanmar, and Western governments have restricted their activities. International brands have no leverage with the military regime.

There is widespread corruption, with workers having to bribe officials to get jobs, and instances of factory owners bribing security forces to intervene in labour disputes and intimidate workers. The cost of these bribes was subtracted from workers’ pay.

The military junta’s growing control of the economy, and entry into more sectors, means that it is impossible for the textile and garment sector to isolate itself from the rest of the economy. In particular, much of the transport and logistics infrastructure is controlled by the military, which also has growing interests in real estate, banking and utilities.
Brands that continue to source from Myanmar will be violating established international due diligence instruments, may be violating laws such as the German due diligence law and the EU law on forced labour, and may be breaching sanctions. The report warns that these brands will face reputational, financial and legal consequences.

The economy of Myanmar has already contracted severely due to the military declaring war on its own people. The exit of global brands from Myanmar will cause further job losses, and global brands need to negotiate a responsible exit from the country, including paying compensation to workers.

IndustriALL general secretary Atle Høie said:

“We have been very patient in waiting for this report to confirm what we have been saying for a year already. There are now no more excuses: this report comprehensively shows that there is no way to conduct business responsibly in Myanmar. Those brands which are still operating in the country need to open negotiations for a responsible exit now.”