Myanmar garment workers urge global brands to denounce coup

Tin Tin Wei used to toil 11 hours a day, six days week stitching jackets at a manufacturing facility in Myanmar. But she hasn’t stitched a single garment since a coup in February.

Instead, the 26-year-old union organiser has been protesting within the streets — and making an attempt to carry worldwide strain to bear on the newly put in junta.

Her union, the Federation of Garment Workers in Myanmar, and others have been staging common strikes to protest the coup and are urging main worldwide brands like H&M and Mango, which supply a few of their merchandise in Myanmar, to denounce the takeover and put extra strain on factories to defend workers from being fired or harassed — or worse, arrested and killed for collaborating within the protests.

“If we go back to work and if we work for the system, our future is in the darkness, and we will lose our labour rights and even our human rights,” mentioned Tin Tin Wei, who has been a clothes manufacturing facility employee since age 13.

The response from corporations up to now has been blended. Only just a few have mentioned they might curtail their enterprise in Myanmar. Most others have put out statements that cease wanting taking motion, saying that whereas they denounce the coup, they need to help the workers by offering them with jobs.

Tin Tin Wei’s union and the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar have additionally been demanding complete worldwide sanctions — not the focused sanctions some have imposed — to carry down the junta that ousted the civilian authorities of Aung San Suu Kyi.

READ: 9 Myanmar protesters shot dead as crackdown triggers exodus from Yangon

As worldwide sanctions have been dropped within the mid-2010s when Myanmar started shifting towards democracy after many years of navy rule and began to set some labor requirements, Western brands trying to diversify their sourcing have been attracted to the nation’s low-cost labor. 

Broad sanctions now would cripple that burgeoning clothes business, which has been rising quickly lately earlier than the coronavirus pandemic reduce orders and eradicated jobs.

Comprehensive sanctions may wreck the livelihoods of greater than 600,000 garment workers, however some union leaders say they might quite see large layoffs than endure navy oppression.

“I would like to do some form of sacrifice within the brief time period for the long run for our subsequent era,” said Tin Tin Wei, who is the sole breadwinner in her family and has been receiving food donations.

The civil disobedience movement, or CDM as it is known, has included railway workers, truck drivers, hospital, bank employees and many others determined to stifle the economy.

The aim is “no participation with the junta at all”, Sein Htay, a migrant labor organizer who returned to Myanmar from Thailand mentioned in an emailed remark. “We imagine that CDM is actually working. So we’re motivated to proceed.”

US Myanmar Apparel Sourcing

An anti-coup protester makes use of a fireplace extinguisher to present cowl for others as safety forces method their encampment in Yangon, Myanmar on Mar 17, 2021. (AP Photo, File)

But violent crackdowns by Myanmar safety forces towards protesters together with garment workers are escalating. Troops shot and killed a minimum of 38 folks Sunday in an industrial suburb of Yangon — an space dominated by clothes factories — after Chinese-owned factories have been set on fireplace. Tens of hundreds of workers and their households have been seen fleeing the realm within the days that adopted.

READ: Chinese workers injured in Myanmar factory attacks, China’s embassy says

The garment business performs a key function in Myanmar’s financial system, notably the export sector. Roughly a 3rd of Myanmar’s whole merchandising exports come from textiles and attire, value US$4.59 billion in 2018. That’s up from 9 per cent, or US$900 million, in 2012 as worldwide sanctions have been dropped, in accordance to the most recent knowledge from the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s attire exports principally go to the European Union, Japan and South Korea due to beneficial commerce agreements. The US accounts for five.5 per cent of Myanmar’s exports, with clothes, footwear and baggage representing the majority of that, in accordance to garment commerce professional Sheng Lu.

But Myanmar nonetheless accounts for a tiny share — lower than 0.1 per cent — in US and European Union trend corporations’ whole sourcing networks. And there are many different alternate options for brands.

Despite this, many are taking a wait-and-see stance when it comes to any long-term selections. Experts be aware it’s not simple to shift merchandise to a unique nation, neither is it simple to return to Myanmar as soon as corporations go away. 

Furthermore, some argue Western corporations play a task in lowering poverty by giving workers in Myanmar alternatives to earn an earnings whereas additionally serving to to enhance labor requirements there.

Factory working situations have been already poor earlier than the February coup, however the labor unions had made some inroads and gave workers hope. And whereas the National League for Democracy, the social gathering that was ousted within the takeover, wasn’t proactively defending unions, it didn’t persecute or crack down on them, says Andrew Tillett-Saks, a labour organiser in Southeast Asia who beforehand was based mostly in Myanmar.

READ: Myanmar factory attacks put focus on Chinese influence

Asian brands have up to now remained quiet in regards to the turmoil. The American Apparel & Footwear Association joined different teams just like the Fair Labor Association in condemning the coup whereas urging members to honour current monetary contracts with factories there.

L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith mentioned he was saddened by the state of affairs in Myanmar, which he visited in 2019. Bean makes use of a number of factories and suppliers for 3 product strains.

Smith mentioned there’s backup manufacturing elsewhere, however it’s vital not to abandon the nation.

Other corporations have been extra forceful of their response. For occasion, Hennes & Mauritz and The Benetton Group have suspended all new orders from factories in Myanmar.

“Although we refrain from taking any immediate action regarding our long-term presence in the country, we have at this point paused placing new orders with our suppliers,″ H&M said in a statement. “This is due to our concern for the safety of people and an unpredictable situation limiting our ability to operate in the country.”

READ: Taiwan tells firms in Myanmar to fly flags to distinguish from China

Spanish model Mango mentioned it could work with its commerce and union companions, globally and domestically in Myanmar, to guarantee there’s no retaliation towards any manufacturing facility employee or union chief exercising their civil or union rights.

Moe Sandar Myint, chairwoman of the Federation of Garment Workers in Myanmar who organised small strikes on manufacturing facility flooring that later moved to the streets, mentioned brands aren’t doing sufficient to assist workers. She needs to see “concrete action”.

Nearly 70 per cent of the garment factories in Myanmar are owned by foreigners, according to the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, and a good chunk of them are Chinese-owned. International brands using the factories don’t directly hire the workers, often depending on a web of contractors and sub-contractors to produce goods for them.

But companies have “an enormous amount of influence in the industry”, Tillett-Saks said. “They hold all the power over the supplier.”

Tin Tin Wei says escalating intimidation by the military is scaring some employees at her factory. Located in the Hlaing Thayar industrial zone, it unionised five years ago. Out of 900 workers employed at the factory, 700 initially joined the protests but that number dropped to 500 by early March, she said.

Moe Sandar Myint, who’s in hiding and moving from one safe house to another after the police raided her home in early February, said she will keep fighting.

“I cannot allow my generation and my next generation to live through another military leadership,” she mentioned. “This is unacceptable.”


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