We write to you as brands that have ramped up sourcing from Myanmar over the past ten years. That decade has seen huge steps forward for both international business and workers’ rights in Myanmar. In particular, we appreciate the efforts of brands to promote workers’ rights standards that include the promotion of workplace health and safety, the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnicity and political opinion, and respect for the right to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining.
On February 1st, the military executed a coup against the elected civilian government. In response, people of all walks of life in Myanmar have risen up in a new Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). As part of this opposition to military rule, workers are launching a general strike.
Garment workers have played a central role in the CDM’s recent pro-democracy protests and opposition to the military coup. However, workers who participate in or show support for CDM protests are being intimidated, threatened and, in some cases, laid off by factory management. Intimidation includes workplace discrimination, detracting salary from workers who take holiday leave to participate in the protests, and threats of mass dismissals. This compounds a deteriorating situation where the military is shooting protesters and raiding worker dormitories at night in search of union leaders.
Myanmar garment workers are asking international brands that source from the country to issue a public, and preferably collective, declaration in support of the workers who make their products. We believe that such a public communication from every international brand would dramatically reduce the intimidation and retaliation from factory owners.
As Ma Moe Sandar Myint, chairwoman of the Federation of Garment Workers of Myanmar, has stated: “This is the time for brands to help the workers of Myanmar, because workers and our country need democracy.”
In a 14 February letter, the Industrial Workers Federation Myanmar made four demands to international brands with Myanmar suppliers, including a public condemnation of the military coup and an effort to ensure that no worker or union leaders should be punished for going on strike or joining the demonstrations. Another letter, dated 18 February, asks brands to exercise due diligence to ensure that their suppliers respect their workers’ right to freedom of association, right to join trade union activities, and other fundamental human and labor rights.
We call on all international brands sourcing from Myanmar factories to both respect and comply with the call by the Industrial Workers Federation Myanmar and Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar.
We further call on these brands to exhibit rigorous due diligence in instructing the owners and management of the factories, from which they source, to comply fully with the brands’ standards for the rights of workers who make their apparel. These instructions must include a prohibition of any intimidation by management of workers who miss work due to participation in the civil disobedience campaign. Such instruction must be accompanied by a warning that the brands will terminate their contracts with factories that violate this requirement.
We will be closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar. We reserve our right to take all appropriate action in support of workers as they assert their rights both as workers and as citizens of Myanmar.
Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan ( BRAJ )
The Burmese Rohingya Association North America
Citizen Power Initiatives for China
Fund Our Future
Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
Missionary Oblates/OIP Trust