This week marks the second anniversary of the attempted coup in Myanmar. Over the past two years, 17492 people have been arrested by the military junta, with 13689 still detained, and 2894 people have been killed by the military (figures obtained by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), as of 30.1.23). Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) stands in solidarity with all those working to end military rule in Myanmar and fully supports the call to bring back democracy and to respect and uphold human rights. CCC’s role is to amplify the voices of garment workers and to be guided by the demands of our members regarding the protection of their rights.
Previous CCC public statements detail our calls to the international community and to international brands. You can find the most recent one here: https://cleanclothes.org/news/2021/call-for-the-eu-to-suspend-preferential-eba-trade-tariffs-from-myanmar.
The situation in Myanmar has continued to deteriorate. Further evidence of human rights and labour rights violations have come to light and more brands have announced their upcoming exit from Myanmar. In view of these developments, CCC has been developing updated demands to international brands.
In cases where brands decide to continue to source from Myanmar: CCC calls for brands to conduct ongoing and heightened due diligence, designed specifically for the high-risk context. Brands must prioritise the human rights of workers and ensure that their operations do not support, either directly or indirectly, the military junta.
In practice, heightened due diligence (DD) looks like:
- Context-specific DD that takes into account the risks to workers at every stage and prioritises their safety, with additional measures put in place to protect workers’ rights.
- A thorough and transparent DD process, including disclosure of an up-to-date list of all direct and indirect suppliers. This includes transparency about production facilities, number of workers, wages, and rights violations reported.
- Ensuring that brand operations do not support the military. This includes tracing where the money goes beyond the factory management level, eg. looking at who owns the transportation operations for supplies/shipments, and whether the factory leases land to a military-owned company, etc, and ensuring there are no links to military-owned companies, military personnel or sanctioned individuals.
- Protecting the safety of workers, including trade union members and leaders. This includes taking clear steps to ensure military personnel are not present in the factories and that suppliers are not working in partnership with the military or being coerced by the military. Making it clear to suppliers that passing information about workers to the military is a non-negotiable red line.
- Recognising that since the coup, the minimum wage in violation of the law, has not increased, while the wages in dollar terms have halved in the same period, and therefore immediately ensure that workers' wages are increased by a minimum of 50%, taking into account both the significant erosion of the exchange rate and the extraordinary high rate of inflation in Myanmar. Increase purchasing prices to enable this.
- Ensuring all wages and benefits owed - including severance payments - are paid in full and on time.
- Improving the safety of workers by working with factory management to ensure that transport is provided to and from the factory.
- Putting the resources necessary into obtaining credible and ongoing information regarding the situation on the ground at supplier factories, and be able to meaningfully follow up where needed.
- Meaningful stakeholder engagement. In the current context of Myanmar, open communication with workers is unlikely to be possible, so companies must engage via legitimate representatives, such as unions (where possible) or independent labour rights NGOs and international civil society organisations that can help ensure two-way communication and that workers voices are heard.
- Addressing the risks to trade union rights and freedom of association, and mitigating the risks to workers who engage in collective bargaining, strike action or other demands for their rights.
- Providing safe access to remedy, and taking additional steps to ensure the process to hear complaints is safe for workers. This means engaging with legitimate worker representatives where direct engagement with workers is not safe.
- Engaging meaningfully and swiftly in resolving and remedying reported violations at supplier factories.
- Supporting training and development opportunities that will directly benefit workers.
- Creating robust contingency plans regarding payment of severance and a pathway for a responsible exit, should the situation change or a decision be made to disengage.
- Refraining from starting new business relationships in Myanmar. Furthermore, companies that are not already sourcing from Myanmar should not start producing in the country.
For brands exiting Myanmar: CCC calls for a responsible and robust exit strategy that prioritises workers’ rights, assess' the impact on workers and mitigates these wherever possible.
This means brands should:
- Ensure that full wages, benefits and all severance owed are paid to all workers. In cases where suppliers do not pay the wages or severance owed, brands should step in and immediately pay the workers.
- Negotiate with the factory for a slow exit, reducing orders gradually to avoid magnifying the impact.
- Support training and development opportunities that will directly benefit workers and increase their chances of finding new employment, with additional support given to vulnerable workers, such as pregnant women or older workers.
- If the supplier plans to continue operating, the brand should conduct a financial audit of the supplier to ensure that there is enough money secured in reserves for wages and severance payments.
- Assess which brand/s will take over production following disengagement and what the impact on workers’ rights will be. Mitigate negative impacts as far as possible.
- Operate with transparency, including about where production will move to following disengagement.
- Prioritise workers’ rights when choosing where to relocate production, and do thorough due diligence. This means choosing facilities where there is an active local union and workers do not face repression for joining or for exercising their rights, and where real steps are being taken towards paying a living wage.
- Engage meaningfully with workers. Additional steps are needed to ensure the safety of workers, so companies should engage via legitimate representatives, such as unions (where possible), independent labour rights NGOs or international civil society organisations.
- Gain a clear understanding about the consequences that disengagement will have on workers and communities, and look for concrete ways to mitigate the impact, such as taking steps to help workers find new jobs, where possible.
- Follow up six months after disengagement to check whether the factory is still in operation. If not, reach out to worker unions or legitimate representatives to assess whether any wages or severance payments are outstanding and take immediate steps to ensure payment reaches those workers owed.
- In addition to ensuring full severance is paid when owed, brands should establish a relief fund in order to support workers in the six months following disengagement as an acknowledgement that, given the context, finding new employment immediately is unlikely.
CCC wishes to emphasise again our total condemnation of this attempted military coup and our refusal to legitimise the military junta in any way. We call for the urgent restoration of democracy and the immediate release of all political prisoners. We commit our ongoing support to workers, trade unions and labour rights organisations in Myanmar.