Myanmar during the Covid-19 Crisis: Joint action between global brands, trade unions and ACT brand suppliers

Global ACT brands sourcing from Myanmar, suppliers and national and global trade unions have established a brand-employer-trade union dialogue to work towards protecting factories and workers from the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and effective implementation of freedom of association in Myanmar’s Garment and Footwear industry.

As a first step, the parties negotiated a joint framework ‘Myanmar during the COVID-19 Crisis: Working together to Protect the Health and Welfare of Workers and supporting the payment of Workers and Factories  which was negotiated by the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), IndustriALL Global Union, the Employer Working Group of suppliers and global brands sourcing from Myanmar.

The parties agreed to work together to secure workers’ health and safety, promote respect for the ILO Core Labour Standards including Freedom of Association, engaging with relevant organizations to support rapid and innovative fund-mobilization, and support the development of social protection in the garment and footwear industry.

“The Myanmar Freedom of Association Guideline, agreed upon by ACT brands in November last year, has laid the foundations of cooperation in the country’s garment industry and has enabled the parties to reach agreement on how they will respond collectively to the COVID crisis,” says IndustriALL assistant general secretary Jenny Holdcroft. “This agreement is a concrete framework for further joint action to address the impacts of the next phase on factories and workers. We call upon all employers and brands sourcing in Myanmar to endorse it.”

Andrei Vasiliev, Responsible Sourcing and Sustainability Specialist at ACT member Bestseller, said that progress on the ground will require all parties to work together based on mutual respect and trust: “Cooperation and social dialogue between trade unions, employers and global brands is critical to addressing the impact of COVID-19 on the industry.”

Paul Zhu, delegate and spokesperson of the Employer Working Group of ACT brand suppliers said: “COVID-19 is a massive challenge. Factories are struggling and we don’t know when or how the industry will return to normal. Now is the time for employers and workers to work together, and we also need to work with the global brands to survive this crisis. The full cooperation of all the parties is the key for the country”.

Khaing Zar Aung, president of Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) and IndustriALL executive committee member said “We are already working with the government in the tripartite dialogue forum. This framework for action comes with clear commitments by the unions, the employers and the global brands to support. We are calling on other brands and industry stakeholders to also join our cooperation. We need to work together.”

The joint framework will be accompanied by a forthcoming Action Plan to be developed through the brand-employer-trade union dialogue and which will define next steps to support the development of a resilient and sustainable garment and footwear industry in Myanmar.

Set up for rolling endorsement by more industry stakeholders to join this initiative, the joint framework aims to keep the doors of Myanmar’s garment and footwear industry open to the world and its workers protected.