As part of the 16-member Labour Alliance, representing the entire labour movement in the country, the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) and IndustriAll affiliate the Industry Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) call for comprehensive economic sanctions against the military junta, which include a boycott of goods as they say worker rights are being “severely violated”.

The CTUM initially issued the boycott call in a May Day message to the international trade union movement, calling for support to “starve and drive out the regime”.

The unions point to “severe violations of workers’ human rights”, which mean trade unions are no longer able to operate freely in Myanmar.

On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) staged a coup d’etat hours before a parliamentary session to pre-empt the swearing-in of cabinet members. Dozens of elected leaders from National League for Democracy (NLD) were detained by the military, including former president Win Myint and former state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since the coup, Myanmar has faced perpetual violence and fear. Coupled with the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic, borders began to shut down and factories faced difficulties sourcing raw materials while international brands, such as C&A, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), and Bestseller began to cut business ties to distance themselves from a brutal military regime. 

According to data from the US International Trade Commission, the coup has hurt the country’s apparel exports significantly. Total US apparel imports enjoyed a robust recovery in the first half of 2021 (up nearly 27%), the value of US apparel (HTS chapters 61 and 62) imports from Myanmar dropped by 0.4%. Myanmar’s top apparel exports to the US ALL suffered a notable decline or much slower growth in 2021 than the trend BEFORE the military coup. As US fashion companies switch sourcing orders from Myanmar to other suppliers, Myanmar’s market shares fell from 0.5% in 2020 to only 0.3% in the first half of 2021.

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But in the height of summer, brands and retailers looked to re-engage with suppliers only to be warned by unions that military-backed manufacturers would benefit.

At the end of July, trade unions in Myanmar called for comprehensive economic sanctions against the country to prevent companies using the current situation to employ casual workers in unsafe factories.

The Myanmar labour movement is now calling for economic and political sanctions against the military junta, a boycott of goods produced in Myanmar, divestment by investors, and for global brands to place no new orders.

“The military regime must be diplomatically isolated and starved of resources,” the campaign reads.

“Considering the harsh situation on the ground caused by the military junta, IndustriAll Global Union calls its affiliates and allies to support comprehensive economic sanctions against the junta, as proposed by the Myanmar Labour Alliance, including IndustriAll affiliate IWFM.”

The campaign letter details possible actions for affiliates and allies could include:

  • To call on your government to put pressure on multinational companies and global brands to cease their operations, divest, stop placing new orders and halt their business relations in Myanmar;
  • To call on multinational companies and global brands originating in your countries, demanding that they cease operations, divest, stop placing new orders and halt their business relations in Myanmar, with the condition that they ensure workers’ rights and entitlements when doing so, particularly ensuring suppliers pay compensation to workers when factories are shut down, in close dialogue with trade unions;
  • To organize physical actions, including demonstrations and marches, and press conferences, at the offices of multinational companies with a presence in Myanmar;
  • To take virtual action, including organizing webinars or joining webinars organized by global unions and other organizations to raise public awareness of comprehensive economic sanctions against the Myanmar military regime;
  • To take photos with a solidarity message and share them on social media with the hashtag #Workers4Myanmar
  • To contact media outlets to highlight the campaign for comprehensive economic sanctions and the plight of Myanmar workers;
  • Regionally, to hand over memorandum to the embassies of ASEAN countries in your country to demand that multinational companies with origins in ASEAN countries cease their operations, orders and business relations in Myanmar.

Bestseller is one of the brands that has heeded the call from IndustriAll and its affiliates and will not be placing any new orders in Myanmar.

This news was first published by IndustriAll.