Myanmar garment staff urge international manufacturers to denounce coup

NEW YORK — Tin Tin Wei used to toil 11 hours a day, six days week stitching jackets at a manufacturing facility in Myanmar. However she hasn’t stitched a single garment since a coup in February.

As an alternative, the 26-year-old union organizer has been protesting within the streets — and making an attempt to deliver worldwide stress to bear on the newly put in junta.

Her union, the Federation of Garment Staff in Myanmar, and others have been staging basic strikes to protest the coup and are urging main worldwide manufacturers like H&M and Mango, which supply a few of their merchandise in Myanmar, to denounce the takeover and put extra stress on factories to guard staff from being fired or harassed — or worse arrested and killed for taking part within the protests.

“If we return to work and if we work for the system, our future is within the darkness, and we’ll lose our labor rights and even our human rights,” stated Tin Tin Wei, who has been a clothes manufacturing facility employee since age 13.

The response from firms up to now has been blended. Only some have stated they’d curtail their enterprise in Myanmar. Most others have put out statements that cease in need of taking motion, saying that whereas they denounce the coup, they need to help the employees by offering them with jobs.

Tin Tin Wei’s union and the Confederation of Commerce Unions in Myanmar have additionally been demanding complete worldwide sanctions — not the focused sanctions some have imposed — to deliver down the junta that ousted the civilian authorities of Aung San Suu Kyi.

As worldwide sanctions had been dropped within the mid-2010s when Myanmar started shifting towards democracy after a long time of navy rule and began to set some labor requirements, Western manufacturers trying to diversify their sourcing had been drawn to the nation’s low-cost labor. Broad sanctions now would cripple that burgeoning clothes trade, which has been rising quickly in recent times earlier than the coronavirus pandemic reduce orders and eradicated jobs.

Complete sanctions might wreck the livelihoods of greater than 600,000 garment staff, however some union leaders say they’d slightly see huge layoffs than endure navy oppression.

“I have to do some form of sacrifice within the brief time period for the long run for our subsequent era,” stated Tin Tin Wei, who’s the only real breadwinner in her household and has been receiving meals donations.

The civil disobedience motion, or CDM as it’s identified, has included railway staff, truck drivers, hospital, financial institution staff and plenty of others decided to stifle the economic system.

The goal is “no participation with the junta in any respect,” Sein Htay, a migrant labor organizer who returned to Myanmar from Thailand stated in an emailed remark. “We consider that CDM is basically working. So we’re motivated to proceed.”

However violent crackdowns by Myanmar safety forces in opposition to protesters together with garment staff are escalating. Troops shot and killed a minimum of 38 individuals Sunday in an industrial suburb of Yangon — an space dominated by clothes factories — after Chinese language-owned factories had been set on hearth. Tens of 1000’s of staff and their households had been seen fleeing the world within the days that adopted.

The garment trade performs a key function in Myanmar’s economic system, notably the export sector. Roughly a 3rd of Myanmar’s whole merchandising exports come from textiles and attire, price $4.59 billion in 2018. That is up from 9%, or $900 million, in 2012 as worldwide sanctions had been dropped, in line with the most recent information from the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s attire exports largely go to the European Union, Japan and South Korea due to favorable commerce agreements. The U.S. accounts for five.5% of Myanmar’s exports, with clothes, footwear and baggage representing the majority of that, in line with garment commerce professional Sheng Lu.

However Myanmar nonetheless accounts for a tiny share — lower than 0.1% — in U.S. and European Union trend firms’ whole sourcing networks. And there are many different alternate options for manufacturers.

Regardless of this, many are taking a wait-and-see stance on the subject of any long-term choices. Specialists be aware it’s not simple to shift merchandise to a unique nation, neither is it simple to return to Myanmar as soon as firms depart. Moreover, some argue Western firms play a job in decreasing poverty by giving staff in Myanmar alternatives to earn an earnings whereas additionally serving to to enhance labor requirements there.

Manufacturing unit working circumstances had been already poor earlier than the February coup, however the labor unions had made some inroads and gave staff hope. And whereas the Nationwide League for Democracy, the occasion that was ousted within the takeover, wasn’t proactively defending unions, it didn’t persecute or crack down on them, says Andrew Tillett-Saks, a labor organizer in Southeast Asia who beforehand was based mostly in Myanmar.

Asian manufacturers have up to now remained quiet in regards to the turmoil. The American Attire & Footwear Affiliation joined different teams just like the Truthful Labor Affiliation in condemning the coup whereas urging members to honor current monetary contracts with factories there.

L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith stated he was saddened by the scenario in Myanmar, which he visited in 2019. Bean makes use of a number of factories and suppliers for 3 product traces.

Smith stated there’s backup manufacturing elsewhere, nevertheless it’s vital to not abandon the nation.

Different firms have been extra forceful of their response. For example, Hennes & Mauritz and The Benetton Group have suspended all new orders from factories in Myanmar.

“Though we chorus from taking any instant motion relating to our long-term presence within the nation, we now have at this level paused inserting new orders with our suppliers,″ H&M stated in a press release. “This is because of our concern for the security of individuals and an unpredictable scenario limiting our potential to function within the nation.”

Spanish model Mango stated it might work with its commerce and union companions, globally and regionally in Myanmar, to make sure there’s no retaliation in opposition to any manufacturing facility employee or union chief exercising their civil or union rights.

Moe Sandar Myint, chairwoman of the Federation of Garment Staff in Myanmar who organized small strikes on manufacturing facility flooring that later moved to the streets, stated manufacturers aren’t doing sufficient to assist staff. She needs to see “concrete motion.”

Almost 70% of the garment factories in Myanmar are owned by foreigners, in line with the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, and chunk of them are Chinese language-owned. Worldwide manufacturers utilizing the factories don’t straight rent the employees, typically relying on an online of contractors and sub-contractors to supply items for them.

However firms have “an unlimited quantity of affect within the trade,” Tillett-Saks stated. “They maintain all the facility over the provider.”

Tin Tin Wei says escalating intimidation by the navy is scaring some staff at her manufacturing facility. Situated within the Hlaing Thayar industrial zone, it unionized 5 years in the past. Out of 900 staff employed on the manufacturing facility, 700 initially joined the protests however that quantity dropped to 500 by early March, she stated.

Moe Sandar Myint, who’s in hiding and transferring from one secure home to a different after the police raided her dwelling in early February, stated she’s going to preserve preventing.

“I can’t enable my era and my subsequent era to stay by means of one other navy management,” she stated. “That is unacceptable.”


Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok. Related Press writers Grant Peck in Bangkok and Dave Sharp in Freeport, Maine, contributed to the report.

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