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Union wins right to organize in Myanmar through ACT guidelines

20 October, 2020Since the global outbreak of Covid-19, ACT brands and IndustriALL have observed an increased level of union busting in the global garment and footwear supply chain. To protect and promote Freedom of Association in Myanmar, an ongoing collaboration between IndustriALL, Myanmar-based union IWFM and ACT brands plays a critical role in protecting workers’ rights.

The collective effort has led to a number of successful negotiations and dispute resolutions between Myanmar-based suppliers and local trade unions. Transparent and good-faith social dialogue, proactive engagement of negotiating parties and support from international brands have set a practical example in Myanmar, showing that when suppliers engage with unions and brands to find solutions to correct and prevent labour rights’ violations, constructive industrial relations develop.

One example is a dispute resolution at Kamcaine Manufacturing, a supplier for ACT brands, where recently a negotiated settlement was reached with the Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), after the employer had dismissed 57 workers, including all seven executive members of the union. Another successful dispute resolution is the three union leaders at Glory Fashion, who were reinstated with backpay.

“This is a good example of how unions are working with brands to develop supply chain industrial relations as an alternative to the corporate-led audit and code of conduct programmes that other brands are using instead of directly engaging with unions,”

says IndustriALL textile director Christina Hajagos-Clausen.

While supply chain industrial relations between unions and ACT brands are getting stronger in Myanmar, there are still cases suppliers who fail to engage in transparent and constructive negotiations. As an example, Yongan Myanmar Fashion Company, has refused to engage in negotiations around the case of unrightful dismissal of workers and to comply with the decision of local arbitration council.

ACT brands have been working with IWFM and IndustriALL to achieve a just result, however the supplier has refused to get involved. As a consequence, and as a last resort, brands sourcing from the factory had to apply their respective zero-tolerance policies, demonstrating that violation of workers’ rights will not be tolerated.

To promote freedom of association (FOA) in Myanmar and help workers and suppliers build stronger industrial relations, ACT brands and IndustriALL have supported suppliers and trade unions in developing a Guideline on Freedom of Association. The guideline is designed to help prevent and manage conflicts that may arise over FOA and help to position Myanmar as a world-class responsible production location. To scale up the work around FOA in Myanmar, ACT brands have made compliance with the FOA Guideline a business requirement, ranked as zero-tolerance in case of violation starting 1 April, 2020.

“We truly believe that freedom of association and collective bargaining are the best way to deal with conflicting interests and to achieve mutual respect and joint responsibility. We will continue our joint efforts among ACT signatories to work closely with local unions and employers to establish higher industrial relations standards in Myanmar,”

says Bestseller's responsible sourcing social impact manager Andrei Vasiliev.

While significant progress has been achieved by ACT brands, IndustriALL and IWFM in Myanmar, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the country to protect FOA, promote collective bargaining and build sustainable and responsible industrial relations. ACT signatories will continue their work in Myanmar and closely monitor the supply chain. Together with IMFW and IndustriALL, ACT has a critical role to play in protecting workers’ rights.

“Freedom of association is a fundamental worker’s right and must be respected and guaranteed everywhere. This is a step towards sustainable industrial relations in Myanmar where all stakeholders contribute through the FOA Guidelines. I hope all brands sourcing in Myanmar will see the benefits of the guidelines and sign up immediately,”

says IWFM President Khaing Zar.