In October 2022, 2,000 workers at the Pou Chen Myanmar factory, supplying global sportswear brand adidas, went on strike to demand better working conditions, higher wages and respect for their right to unionise. In response, the factory management fired 26 workers, including 16 members of the union. CCC has been working with labour rights organisations in Myanmar, calling on adidas and the Pou Chen Group to immediately reinstate the workers and for the union demands to be met.
As of 9th of February, 13 of the 26 fired workers have been reinstated and have returned to the factory. 13 have taken severance pay, offered during drawn-out negotiations where it was unclear if reinstatement would be a possibility.
Although 13 workers have been reinstated, union busting continues at the adidas supplier factory. Efforts appear to be ongoing to dissuade people from joining the union, and workers fear the repercussions they may face if they become active members. Once the reinstated union leaders returned to work, they were told of preparations underway at the factory for a protest against them re-joining. The planned protest, which didn’t end up taking place, would have prevented real strike action in the future, undermined the union and deepened workers fears around fighting for their rights. The protest was organised by management and is a clear demonstration of union busting.
Adidas and the Pou Chen Group have stated that they consider the case resolved, however there have been numerous reports of ongoing union busting at the factory. Adidas has a long-standing sourcing relationship with the Pou Chen Group, which makes this blatant union repression even more stark. If the brand had a strong stance that matched its code of conduct and ensured suppliers respected freedom of association, no workers involved in the strike would have faced retaliation. Equally, if adidas stood by its own Workplace Standards, wages should have increased to match hyper-inflation in a politically and economically unstable Myanmar.
The Pou Chen workers demand an end to discrimination against union leaders and members, for their re-unionising efforts to go unhindered by the management, and for the factory to agree to collective bargaining.
This case cannot be divorced from the wider context of a turbulent post-coup Myanmar, run by a military regime that continues to actively and brutally repress workers’ rights, outlaw trade unions and target labour rights organisers. Brands, such as adidas, that choose to continue sourcing from Myanmar must conduct heightened, ongoing and context-specific due diligence, which includes meaningful stakeholder engagement wherever possible, and the prioritisation of human rights. Brands sourcing from Myanmar also have a responsibility to ensure that workers’ wages increase by at least 50%, in line with hyper-inflation; that full wages, benefits and severance are paid; and that their operations do not in any way support the military junta. Further details of what constitutes heightened due diligence for brands sourcing from Myanmar, can be found here: https://cleanclothes.org/news/2023/solidarity-with-workers-in-myanmar-on-second-anniversary-of-attempted-coup
This is a vital time for supporting workers’ rights and amplifying workers’ voices in Myanmar. CCC calls on adidas, and other brands sourcing from the country, to actively prioritise and protect rights, including the fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
CCC will continue to monitor the situation in the Pou Chen Myanmar factory and to support the Pou Chen union in their fight.