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May 17, 2022

Myanmar state of affairs worsening, ETI warns businesses

The Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) is urging fashion brands to refrain from making any additional investments in Myanmar, with claims the human rights situation in the country continues to deteriorate.

By Hannah Abdulla

In a position statement, the ETI points to a Commission of Inquiry into the decline of workers’ rights in Myanmar established by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in March, noting such a move is the ILO’s highest-level investigative procedure which is generally set up when a member state is accused of committing persistent and serious violations and has repeatedly failed to address them.

The ETI adds unions are reporting the environment in Myanmar has become increasingly dangerous for them to operate in, have safe communications with their members and negotiate with employers and brand companies to settle workplace labour disputes. It says to date, 54 trade unionists and worker activists have been killed by the military and at least 279 trade union leaders and worker activists have been arrested, according to the ILO.

In addition, the State Administration Council (SAC) has banned 16 labour organisations from operating, while the Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) Initiative, a global agreement between trade unions and brands to achieve living wages, withdrew from Myanmar in December 2021, as a result of its trade union partner, the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), stating that it could not operate freely in the country under the current circumstances. 

Within this context, The Myanmar Labour Alliance – including the CTUM and its affiliate, IWFM, with support from the ITUC, IndustriALL and other global union federations, have called on businesses to cease placing new orders and disinvest. 

The ETI is now advising that in addition to its earlier advice to companies to reassess their presence in Myanmar and ensure that such an assessment is based on the application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), businesses refrain from making any additional investments in Myanmar at this time.

It also advises that businesses continue to meaningfully engage with unions locally and internationally with respect to their presence in Myanmar.

“We will continue to conduct an independent study as a matter of urgency which is examining the human rights implications of doing business in Myanmar in line with the UNGPs and OECD guidelines,” the ETI says.

Just Style reported a drop in year-on-year US apparel imports from Myanmar for the month of March, as evidenced by data from the US Office of Apparel and Textiles – the location continuing to lose attractiveness as an apparel sourcing destination due to the US sanctions against its military coup.

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