A three-year project taking place in Myanmar’s garment industry to enhance productivity and improve workplace health and safety is generating great interest, organisers have told just-style, and feeds into a wider goal of improving productivity by 25% over the next ten years.

Funded by DANIDA (Danish International Development Agency) and carried out in collaboration with four Danish partners – Danish Ethical Trading Initiative (DIEH), trade union 3F, clothing brand Bestseller, and Aalborg University – the MYPOD project aims to generate more decent jobs, sustainable increased value addition and participation in Myanmar’s garment sector through improved productivity, work environment and social dialogue.

Launched last December, the project has two main outcomes: firstly that employers and workers at project factories benefit from an improved work environment, productivity and social dialogue; and secondly, that there is an increased sector-wide awareness and technical capacity among suppliers, and brands for improvement processes. 

“So far, we have experienced great interest in MYPOD from the industry, as factories want to increase their competitiveness by improving their productivity, which is overall lower in Myanmar than the average productivity in the region,” project manager Julie Bundgaard tells just-style.

“The MYPOD project feeds into Myanmar’s goal of improving productivity by 25% over the next ten years, and we believe it is important to seek this goal while integrating improvements on worker’s welfare and social dialogue.”

Based on the assumption that improvements in productivity, work environment and social dialogue can be integrated parts of the same processes, Bundgaard says the MYPOD project aims to lift suppliers’ performance by bringing together all three components.

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At present there are ten factories on board with the initiative. MYPOD interventions will take place over five months in all the project factories divided in two batches. These are performed by professors in textile engineering and mechanical engineering from Yangon Technological University and the two trade unions IWFM and MICS, who have all gone through training provided by Aalborg University and 3F prior to the interventions. 

Interventions are currently running in lean productivity at the first batch of five project factories, and simultaneously getting ready to integrate the social dialogue component in collaboration with the two local trade unions.

“So far, we have learned about the importance of the brands and factories’ engagement in order for the interventions to be welcomed and get carried out properly and constructively,” Bundgaard adds. “We know from our baseline study that all project factories struggle with productivity issues – some of which are easy to identify and improve, but many of which require longer processes of persistent improvements and change of routines and mindsets.

“Social dialogue is still a new and sensitive topic in Myanmar, where trade unions have only been legal since 2012, and our baseline study has confirmed the need for improvement in terms of implementing management systems for securing social dialogue.”

The MYPOD project will analyse how productivity, work environment and social dialogue improvements are interconnected, and whether there is a positive business case that the industry can roll out at a larger scale.

The business case will be presented to the industry, brands and other stakeholders in Myanmar’s garment sector, and Bundgaard is hopeful the impacts of the MYPOD project will hopefully go beyond the three-year project period. 

A seminar on ergonomics and occupational health and safety, organised by SMART Myanmar and the MYPOD project, was held at Yangon Technological University on 15 September to raise awareness of the issue among factory managers. More than 80 people are expected to participate.