Excessive working hours, incorrect pay, trade union discrimination, sexual harassment, and unsafe working environments are just some of the issues uncovered in a number of Korean-owned garment factories in Myanmar, a new report has found.

'Under Pressure', published by Myanmar labour rights group Action Labor Rights, researched labour conditions across 39 garment factories either wholly Korean-owned or joint ventures with Korean companies. Comparing conditions in factories to the requirements of the Myanmar legal framework, the survey found "significant" non-compliance, particularly with regard to laws on working hours and overtime. 

Excessive overtime was a major issue of concern amongst the 1,200 employees interviewed, with around 30% of the factories failing to abide by the maximum 16 hours weekly overtime limit. Nearly two-thirds of workers (62%) reported being unable to refuse working excessive hours. Those that refused overtime had payments deducted from their salary in some cases, known as 'gate pass'.

Beyond the elements of basic salary, overtime pay and attendance bonuses found in most Myanmar garment factory payslips, around 18 different methods of salary calculation were found.

Accessing medical leave was also an issue amongst workers, with only 22% able to access the 30 day legal entitlement. Another 39% said they were not permitted to take more than three days medical leave before employers cut their salaries or they were fired.

Sexual harassment was also reported, with 7% of female respondents reporting they had either experienced it themselves or heard that their female co-workers had. Around 10% reported verbal abuse and some physical assaults by supervisors during working hours. 

The survey also found that trade union leaders and activists were discriminated against in terms of payment, promotion, overtime payment and termination of their contract. Despite a legal requirement under the 2012 Settlement of Labour Disputes Law for an employer with more than 30 employees to establish a Workplace Coordinating Committee, only 14% of the Korean garment factories surveyed had such a committee. 

Working conditions were also found to be under par, with temperatures "uncomfortably hot", affecting productivity and health. Only two-thirds said their factories have emergency exits in place, and where they exist, 26% reported them inaccessible.

Drawing on the findings, the report makes a number of recommendations to increase compliance by factories through the strengthening of law, penalties, inspections and enforcement. 

It adds: "Other parts of the supply chain, such as international buyers and retailers, also need to take action on improving buying behaviour as well as investing in long-term win-win supply chain partnerships in Myanmar. This report is intended to be a useful source of data for their own human rights due diligence, and to enable them to support continuous improvement in factories through capacity building."

It also calls on the Korean government to ensure their enterprises "operate within the framework of applicable law, regulations and prevailing labour relations and employment practices, and applicable international labour standards". 

"We hope the findings of this study will assist them in doing this. We also hope it will lead to greater awareness among international and Myanmar consumers, especially the younger generation, concerning the reality of labour conditions in Myanmar garment factories, which in turn can lead to more mindful garment purchases."

Click here to view the full report.