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Myanmar garment and footwear industry, already under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, now faces more damage in the aftermath of the country announced “state of emergency” in February 2021. According to the European Chamber of Commerce and Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) in 2018, Myanmar’s annual textile and apparel exports jumped to US$4.49 billion and the industry’s roughly 650 factories provide jobs for more than 500,000 workers, with two new factories opening every week in 2019. Due to Covid-19 pandemic, the apparel export of the country dropped 11.75 per cent and with this country political instability, apparel exports may further drop to average monthly apparel export to $327.34 million in 2021 with a drop of 15.00 per cent. More than 200 garment factories from Yangon, Mandalay, Bago and Pathein are set to close because of “economic instability” and some leading fashion brands put a halt on sourcing from Myanmar.
Myanmar’s garment industry faces many serious challenges. Garment factories in Myanmar face high risks for violations, including low wages, long working hours, repression of union members, child labour and poor relationships between employers and unions. An estimated 90% of the workers in Myanmar are female and gender-based harassment and violence are common.
The labour market remains fragile. The ILO estimates approximately 1.6 million jobs were lost in Myanmar in 2021, with the military takeover compounding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to MGMA snapshot September 2021, around 134 factories closed down due to pandemic and political crises with 157000 job loses.
Fair Wear has been active in Myanmar since 2016. Currently, 12 Fair Wear member brands source from 27 factories in the country.
Since there’s such a high-risk of labour violations, Fair Wear has regarded Myanmar as a country that carries additional risks regarding the implementation of labour standards and we have an Fair Wear Enhanced Monitoring Framework for Myanmar in place that requires Fair Wear member brands active in the country to take additional measures. Given the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, we have called on all Fair Wear member companies to assess their presence in the country as a matter of urgency and renewed advice that in their assessment, companies apply the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and OECD due diligence guidance. Fair Wear engages in continuous stakeholder consultation, carefully monitors of the developing situation and issued several statements and guidance such as Guidance for brands, statement by coalition of MSI’s and industry organizations and update on Myanmar situation in which we urge the full and immediate restoration of democratic rights, calls for an end to the increasingly violent crackdown against leaders of unions and labour rights organisations. Fair Wear continue its complaints helpline available for workers to voice their concerns. As worker turnover is high, Fair Wear also arranged awareness raising activities for workers on the existence of the complaints helpline.
Since the coup in February 2021, the key question is whether brands can still conduct meaningful human rights due diligence or whether sourcing in Myanmar causes greater harm to the rights of workers than good. Fair Wear expects its members to reassess their presence in Myanmar and in consultation with its stakeholders updated its guidance to the ‘heightened Human Rights Due Diligence’ to help guide this assessment.
Whenever brands do decide to stop, decrease or pause sourcing from a supplier, all steps of Fair Wear’s regular responsible exit strategy can be followed. We are also closely monitoring the Myanmar situation and any possible additional measures that the European Union may impose as a result.
Fair Wear members with production in Myanmar are required to implement additional, country-specific measures to support the implementation o…