The ILO, an arm of the United Nations, has published a report, urging Myanmar’s military rulers to end forced labour and violence against trade unionists.

The Commission also found that Myanmar did not comply with its obligations under the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29), since the military “continues to exact different types of forced labour in the context of armed conflict”. It also said there is a lack of adequate enforcement of the prohibition of forced or compulsory labour.

The International Labour Organization’s Commission of Inquiry for Myanmar was established in March 2022 after the takeover by the Myanmar military authorities in February 2021 and the military’s suppression of pro-democracy protests.

It was tasked with assessing reports of violence against trade union leaders, severe and repeated violations of basic civil liberties and a resurgence of forced labour.

The three independent experts who conducted the inquiry gathered written submissions from various entities and had direct contacts with persons affected by the complex political, human rights, humanitarian and economic crisis, as well as those having expert knowledge of the issues raised. While the Commission had no access to the country, it said it was “able to obtain extensive information on the situation through these witnesses”.

Several apparel brands and retailers have ceased sourcing from Myanmar due to concerns about not being able to carry out due diligence effectively.

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Most recently, H&M said it was planning a phased exit on increased challenges to conduct operations in accordance with its standards and requirements.

This summer (August), Inditex confirmed its phased and responsible exit from Myanmar, with a GlobalData analyst telling Just Style the decision would have minimal consequence for the retailer.

In March, Primark confirmed it was in talks with suppliers in Myanmar after two factories it had formerly worked with abruptly closed leading to the displacement of 2,200 factory workers.

But last month a report published suggested 212 cases of labour and human rights violations against 108,000 apparel workers can be linked to 46 global fashion brands and retailers in the past two years.

The report’s recommendations

The recommendations urge the military authorities to immediately cease all forms of violence, torture and other inhumane treatment against trade union leaders and members; to release and withdraw all criminal charges against trade unionists detained in relation to the exercise of their civil liberties and legitimate trade union activities; and to fully restore the protection of basic civil liberties suspended since the coup d’état.

The recommendations also urge the military authorities to end the exaction of all forms of forced or compulsory labour by the army and its associated forces, as well as forced recruitment into the army.

The report of the Commission of Inquiry has been sent to the Permanent Mission of Myanmar in Geneva. Myanmar has three months to announce whether or not it accepts the recommendations; and if not, whether it proposes to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice.

Smart Myanmar, which aims to foster cooperation between Myanmar’s fashion supply chain and Europe, had not responded to Just Style’s request for comment at the time of going to press.