Harassment and the unfair dismissal of workers who become actively involved in labor union activities is commonplace in Myanmar’s footwear and garments sectors. Moreover, those who are fired for labor activity often find it difficult to find jobs at other factories, with some suspecting that factories share information on workers they consider troublesome. One factory is said to have forced workers to carry loads even though they were employed as machine operators and silk printers and not as general laborers. Even requests like graded bonuses for workers conducting more skilled tasks or adequate time for toilet breaks or partitions between male and female toilets are ignored.
This is the case at factories supplying to major European brands and retailers, despite these companies having policies in place that explicitly acknowledge workers’ right to unionise. Supervisors routinely use abusive language. Many of these practices are in violation of the brands’ policies, and in some cases appear to be breaches of Myanmar law.
The allegations come at a time when Myanmar’s garment sector, whose exponential growth has been a rare economic success story, is threatened by the EU’s decision to review Myanmar’s duty- and quota-free access to the European market, where the bulk of garment exports are currently destined, because of allegations of human rights violations.