CCC regrets premature and irresponsible lifting of EU sanctions on Burma
The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), an international labour rights network, has expressed their sadness at the European Union's (EU) decision to move ahead with removing the restrictions despite the failure of the Burmese state to meet many of the EU's own benchmarks.
The move by the EU comes at a time when there is still not even minimum compliance with international standards nor a well functioning labour and trade union law in Burma.
“It is deeply upsetting to see the EU put aside the need for due diligence in line with the UN's Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business in favour of rewarding what even they consider to be unmet promises.”, said Dominique Muller from the CCC International Secretariat.
With no coherent labour law, or protection for trade unionists, the situation for the average Burmese worker remains dire. Wages in Burma are the lowest in the region while the operating costs are some of the highest – a situation which results in very little movement for the payment of higher wages.
Earlier this year, Thailand passed new minimum wage laws requiring employers to pay the daily rate of 300 bhat - around 10 US dollars a day. In contrast workers in Burma generally receive wages ranging from 300 to 1000 Burmese Kyat a day – 1.15 US dollars a day. Workers only receive this wage if they complete 100% attendance which means seven days a week, 30-31 days a month. Wage variations are huge and religious and ethnic discrimination over pay rates is endemic. Abuse of workers by supervisors, both verbal and physical is common as are extremely long working hours and low occupational health and safety standards.
Last year the Thai Garment Manufacturers Association stated that due to the “unreasonable policy of the Thai government to increase wages” to 300 Baht a day they would not expand inside Thailand but would instead look at Burmese expansion. This type of wage related competition is already common in the region and can only get worse unless serious action is taken to raise Burmese working and living conditions as opposed to lower the rest of the region to stay “competitive”.
In addition, in Burma, freedom of expression remains limited and despite some progress towards allowing trade unions and a growth in new unions, workers continue to be harassed during strikes and leaders are regularly dismissed after protests. Arrests for public assembly remain all too frequent.
The lifting of sanctions will do nothing to stop the gold rush into Burma of companies eager to tap a poorly organized and low paid workforce. Add to this the complex ethnic and religious tensions alongside continued reports of land grabbing on a massive scale – including for development projects – and you have a recipe of disaster.
“The EU's decision further underscores the need for companies to be directly pressured into paying a living wage to ensure that the Burmese workers get the most benefit from their government's new policies. But without key leverage this will be a massive challenge”, said Dominique Muller.
We now call on EU countries on a national level to ensure that they and their companies continue to push for a chance of responsible investment now that the EU has failed to do in its abdication of responsibility.
- The Clean Clothes Campaign works with over 200 partner organisations worldwide to improve working conditions and support empowerment of workers in the global garment industry. The Campaign has offices in 12 European countries. Partners include groups working with Burmese migrants in the region as well with independent worker groups inside Burma
- In its 2012 decision to suspend sanctions for 12 months the EU itself commented on the role of private companies in the role of the development of Burma and recommended that this “should be done by promoting the practice of the highest standards of integrity and corporate social responsibility” as laid out in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, UN guiding principles on business and human rights and the EU's own CSR strategy 2011-2014 to create the best possible regulatory environment. This talk appears to be taking second place now the EU has abdicated leverage needed to help guide the creation of such an environment.
- Almost one third of the Burmese workforce is estimated to work outside of Burma with the majority working in factories in neighbouring Thailand. Most of these do not receive minimum wages. The current exchange rate is 1US$ - 850 kyats