Rights abuses documented at garment industries


YANGON — Labour rights organisations say a survey has uncovered major abuses at factories producing garments for popular brands in the European market.

The investigation, conducted from February to June 2016 and released on Sunday, focused on 12 factories that produce clothing for brands including H&M, Pierre Cardin, New Look and Sports Direct.

More than 400 workers from the factories – located in Yangon Region, Bago Region and the Ayeyarwady Region capital Pathein – were interviewed for the study, which was conducted by a Dutch organisation, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), together with Action Labor Rights (ALR) and Labor Rights Defenders and Promoters (LRDP) from Myanmar.

Some of the workers reported being denied overtime payments, forced to work overtime to get their basic salary, being denied any leave and other basic rights abuses. Six out of 12 factories were found to be using workers under 14 years of age, who were forced to work as fast as adults.

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“Conditions for some workers match the definition of forced labour set by the ILO,” said Ma Hnin Ei Hlaing from ALR, referring to the International Labour Organization.

While most workers who were interviwed reported being paid the minimum wage of K3,600 (less than US$3) a day, this was often not enough to cover their family’s living costs and many reported being in debt.

Ko Thurein Aung from ALR said on Tuesday that the K3,600 minimum wage, which came into effect in September 2015, was simply “not enough”. Some workers also receive less than this, he noted.

“According to the rate set by the government, workers get K3,600 [a day] after working six months. At first workers get K1,800 per day and then K2,700. This is definitely not enough,” he said.

Only one of the 12 factories had a union, or “labour organisation” as they are officially known in Myanmar.

Thurein Aung said employers normally found an excuse to dismiss workers who tried to form a unions, and in some cases they were fired without cause.

The names of the factories have not been publicly disclosed due to concerns of reprisals against workers, he added.

The factories and garment buyers were given a chance to respond to the results of the investigation before they were made public.

Only one factory responded with a commitment to improve its operations, while most buyers said they would take additional steps to ensure workers’ legal rights were upheld.

Thurein Aung said he was confident that the buyers would conduct checks of their suppliers to try and verify the accusations. If they find abuses, they will likely switch suppliers, he said.

“The message we want to give to the buyers from Europe is that we are not fighting [against them]. We just urge them to find a solution inclusively,” Thurein Aung said.

SOMO is a non-profit organisation that focuses on ensuring responsible business practices among multinational corporations. It released the results of the investigation to the Dutch parliament on February 5.

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