Blog: Leonie BarrieMyanmar moves on labour law reforms

Leonie Barrie | 29 June 2015

Myanmar is set to become a more attractive garment sourcing and investment destination after plans were agreed on labour law reforms in the country – with Gap and H&M coming out in support of the proposals. Details of the timetable and approach – which have been in the pipeline since last autumn – were shared with just-style by an official at the International Labour Organization (ILO).

And long-delayed details on a proposed minimum wage for garment factory workers in Myanmar should also be released by the end of this month, just-style has been told.

Continuing its efforts towards the payment of living wages in the garment supply chain, the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) has now turned its attention to the issue of competition law. And its advice? According to a new guide, brands and retailers can work collectively on raising wages in factories as long as they take some key precautions.

Both the Alliance and Accord have long expressed their concerns at the Bangladesh government’s lack of engagement in the process of making garment factories safer and empowering workers. But recent comments from the country's finance minister appear to be pushing their frustrations to the fore.

German fashion house Hugo Boss says it is "in direct, close contact" with Peruvian textile and garment supplier Topy Top over allegations of worker rights violations and "union busting".

And around 300 workers continue to strike at a Lever Style factory in Shenzhen, which is a supplier to Fast Retailing, operator of the Uniqlo casual clothing chain.

In any discussion on social responsibility, the garment-exporting countries of South and Southeast Asia have a serious credibility problem, writes David Birnbaum. Yet credibility is the single most important factor in determining the success or failure of any sustainable development strategy.

While Mike Flanagan questions whether mass-market clothing can be made legally - or ethically - in the UK or the US if it’s competing with low-wage production.

Clothing and textiles is one of the priority areas being targeted by the UK-based Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in a new five-year plan to encourage businesses to reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in a more efficient way.

New technologies ranging from waterless dyeing to 3D printing and supply chain mapping tools have the potential to help fashion and footwear firms make smarter sustainable choices, executives were told a recent event in London.

"We're best when we're leading and pioneering," is Michael Kobori's take on denim giant Levi Strauss & Co's responsibility in ensuring it has an ethical supply chain. But it is competition, believes the company’s VP of sustainability, more so than collaboration, that really raises the bar when it comes to sustainability.

In other news, sourcing giant Li & Fung has formed a joint venture with Chinese retailers Bailian Group and Wangfujing Department Store to develop their own private label clothing brands. The move also paves the way for the Hong Kong-based company to extend its global supply chain to a retail network serving China’s growing middle class.

And fashion retailer H&M Hennes & Mauritz will likely suffer gross margin pressure in the near-term, analysts believe, as the negative impact from the strong US dollar is compounded by increased purchasing costs and rising wages.

After several long and challenging months, key pieces of US trade legislation cleared their final hurdles last week. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which enables the president to fast-track free trade agreements, is seen as key to finalising the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While other measures include renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and extension of the Haiti HELP/HOPE programme.

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