May 15, 2021

Open Letter to Apparel Brands Sourcing From Myanmar: Ensure Protection of Worker Rights

We write to you as brands that have ramped up sourcing from Myanmar over the past ten years. That decade has seen huge steps forward for both international business and workers’ rights in Myanmar. In particular, we appreciate the efforts of brands to promote workers’ rights standards that include the promotion of workplace health and safety, the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnicity and political opinion, and respect for the right to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining.

The Solidarity Center

On February 1st, the military executed a coup against the elected civilian government. In response, people of all walks of life in Myanmar have risen up in a new Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). As part of this opposition to military rule, workers are launching a general strike.

Garment workers have played a central role in the CDM’s recent pro-democracy protests and opposition to the military coup. However, workers who participate in or show support for CDM protests are being intimidated, threatened and, in some cases, laid off by factory management. Intimidation includes workplace discrimination, detracting salary from workers who take holiday leave to participate in the protests, and threats of mass dismissals. This compounds a deteriorating situation where the military is shooting protesters and raiding worker dormitories at night in search of union leaders.

Myanmar garment workers are asking international brands that source from the country to issue a public, and preferably collective, declaration in support of the workers who make their products. We believe that such a public communication from every international brand would dramatically reduce the intimidation and retaliation from factory owners.

As Ma Moe Sandar Myint, chairwoman of the Federation of Garment Workers of Myanmar, has stated: “This is the time for brands to help the workers of Myanmar, because workers and our country need democracy.”

In a 14 February letter, the Industrial Workers Federation Myanmar made four demands to international brands with Myanmar suppliers, including a public condemnation of the military coup and an effort to ensure that no worker or union leaders should be punished for going on strike or joining the demonstrations. Another letter, dated 18 February, asks brands to exercise due diligence to ensure that their suppliers respect their workers’ right to freedom of association, right to join trade union activities, and other fundamental human and labor rights.

We call on all international brands sourcing from Myanmar factories to both respect and comply with the call by the Industrial Workers Federation Myanmar and Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar.

We further call on these brands to exhibit rigorous due diligence in instructing the owners and management of the factories, from which they source, to comply fully with the brands’ standards for the rights of workers who make their apparel. These instructions must include a prohibition of any intimidation by management of workers who miss work due to participation in the civil disobedience campaign. Such instruction must be accompanied by a warning that the brands will terminate their contracts with factories that violate this requirement.

We will be closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar. We reserve our right to take all appropriate action in support of workers as they assert their rights both as workers and as citizens of Myanmar.

Signed

Arakan Rohingya Union

Association Suisse-Birmanie

Be Slavery Free

Burma Action Ireland

Burma Campaign UK

Burmese Rohingya Community in Denmark (BRCD)

Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan ( BRAJ )

The Burmese Rohingya Association North America

Citizen Power Initiatives for China

CodePink

Crane Center for Mass Atrocity Prevention

Dana Investment Advisors

Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids

For All

Fund Our Future

Global Movement for Myanmar Democracy

Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition

Harrington Investments, Inc

Heartland Initiative 

Karen Organization of America

Human Rights Watch

IFI Watch Myanmar

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

International Campaign for the Rohingya

Maryknoll Sisters

Maven Women

Mercy Investment Services, Inc.

Missionary Oblates/OIP Trust

Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies

Never Again Coalition

No Business With Genocide

Nonviolence International

Partners Relief & Development UK

The PLAN: Public Legal Aid Network

Project Maje

Responsible Sourcing Network

SharePower Responsible Investing

Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia

Solidarity Center

Workers Rights Consortium