Myanmar garment personnel urge global brands to denounce coup

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Tin Wei used to toil 11 hours a day, six times week sewing jackets at a factory in Myanmar. But she hasn’t stitched an individual garment since a coup in February.

Instead, the 26-year-outdated union organizer has got been protesting on the roads - and trying to take international pressure to bear on the recently installed junta.

Her union, the Federation of Garment Workers found in Myanmar, and other folks have been staging standard strikes to protest the coup and are urging important international brands just like H&M and Mango, which source a few of their products found in Myanmar, to denounce the takeover and put more pressure in factories to protect staff from being fired or harassed - or worse arrested and killed for taking part in the protests.

“If we get back to work and if we work for the system, our future is in the darkness, and we will lose our labor rights and even our man privileges,” said Tin Tin Wei, who is a clothing factory worker since age 13.

The response from companies so far has been mixed. Just a few have stated they might curtail their business in Myanmar. Many others have released statements that stop short of taking action, stating that while they denounce the coup, they would like to support the staff by providing them with jobs.

Tin Wei’s union and the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar have also been demanding in depth international sanctions - not really the targeted sanctions some have imposed - to bring down the junta that ousted the civilian federal government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

As worldwide sanctions were dropped in the mid-2010s when Myanmar started out shifting toward democracy after years of military rule and started to set most labor standards, Western makes looking to diversify their sourcing were drawn to the country’s low cost labor. Broad sanctions nowadays would cripple that burgeoning garments industry, which includes been growing rapidly in recent years before the coronavirus pandemic cut orders and eliminated jobs.

Comprehensive sanctions could wreck the livelihoods of more than 600,000 garment workers, however, many union leaders say they might rather see large layoffs than endure military oppression.

“I need to do some sort of sacrifice in the short term for the permanent for our next era,” explained Tin Tin Wei, who is the sole breadwinner in her relatives and has been getting food donations.

The civil disobedience movement, or CDM as it is known, has included railway workers, truck motorists, hospital, bank employees and many others established to stifle the economy.

Desire to is “no participation with the junta at all,” Sein Htay, a migrant labor organizer who returned to Myanmar from Thailand said within an emailed comment. “We think that CDM is very working. So we happen to be motivated to keep.”

But violent crackdowns by Myanmar reliability forces against protesters including garment workers are escalating. Troops shot and killed at least 38 persons Sunday in an commercial suburb of Yangon - a location dominated by clothing factories - after Chinese-possessed factories were set burning. Thousands of workers and their families were noticed fleeing the region in the times that followed.

The garment industry plays an integral role in Myanmar’s economy, particularly the export sector. Approximately a third of Myanmar’s total merchandising exports result from textiles and outfits, value $4.59 billion in 2018. That’s up from 9%, or $900 million, in 2012 as foreign sanctions were dropped, in line with the latest info from the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s apparel exports mostly go to the EU, Japan and South Korea because of favorable trade agreements. The U.S. makes up about 5.5% of Myanmar’s exports, with clothing, footwear and luggage representing the majority of that, relating to garment trade expert Sheng Lu.

But Myanmar still makes up about a tiny share - less than 0.1% - in U.S. and EU fashion companies’ total sourcing systems. And there are a lot of other options for brands.

Despite this, most are going for a wait-and-see stance when it comes to any long-term decisions. Experts be aware it’s not simple to shift products to a different country, nor is it easy to go back to Myanmar once companies keep. Furthermore, some argue Western companies are likely involved in reducing poverty by giving workers in Myanmar prospects to make a living while also assisting to improve labor requirements there.

Factory working conditions were already poor prior to the February coup, however the labor unions had made some inroads and gave personnel hope. Even though the National Little league for Democracy, the party that was ousted in the takeover, wasn’t proactively guarding unions, it didn’t persecute or crack down on them, says Andrew Tillett-Saks, a labor organizer in Southeast Asia who previously was located in Myanmar.

Asian brands have up to now remained quiet about the turmoil. The American Outfits & Footwear Association joined different groups like the Good Labor Association in condemning the coup while urging participants to honor existing personal contracts with factories there.

L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith said he was saddened by the problem in Myanmar, which he visited in 2019. Bean uses countless factories and suppliers for three products.

Smith said there’s back-up production elsewhere, but it’s important not to abandon the country.

Other companies have already been more forceful in their response. For example, Hennes & Mauritz and The Benetton Group possess suspended all new orders from factories in Myanmar.

“Although we avoid taking any immediate action regarding our long-term existence in the country, we've at this stage paused placing new orders with our suppliers,″ H&M said in a statement. “This is because of our concern for the protection of men and women and an unpredictable circumstance limiting our ability to operate in the country.”

Spanish brand Mango said it would use its trade and union partners, globally and locally on Myanmar, to make sure there’s zero retaliation against any kind of factory worker or union leader exercising their civil or union legal rights.

Moe Sandar Myint, chairwoman of the Federation of Garment Personnel found in Myanmar who organized little strikes on factory floors that in the future moved to the roads, said makes aren’t doing a sufficient amount of to greatly help workers. She really wants to see “concrete action.”

Nearly 70% of the garment factories in Myanmar are owned by foreigners, in line with the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar, and an excellent chunk of these are Chinese-owned. International makes using the factories do not directly hire the workers, sometimes depending on a internet of contractors and sub-contractors to create goods for them.

But companies have “a massive amount of affect in the market,” Tillett-Saks said. “They keep all the power over the distributor.”

Tin Tin Wei says escalating intimidation by the armed service is scaring some personnel at her factory. Situated in the Hlaing Thayar commercial zone, it unionized five years back. Out of 900 employees utilized at the factory, 700 initially joined the protests but that amount dropped to 500 by early on March, she said.

Moe Sandar Myint, who’s found in hiding and moving from one safe house to some other after the law enforcement raided her home in early February, said she'll keep fighting.

“I cannot allow my era and my next era to live through another army leadership,” she said. “This is unacceptable.”

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

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