The Myanmar Dilemma

Primark Store, Source: Wikimedia Commons ©

The garment industry has long been heavily criticized for fostering low wages, long working hours, child labor and health issues in Bangladesh and Pakistan. It has recently been observed that fashion manufacturing in Myanmar is steadily increasing. It seems that the garment industry is shifting manufacturing sites to other countries after public attention was raised by the collapse of the Rana Plaza production facility in 2013. Myanmar has recently freed itself from military rule and is attractive to the garment industry due to low wages and limited regulation. Exports to Europe from this region almost doubled in 2015.1

The Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) examined twelve production facilities and interviewed more than 400 workers2. Most factories are headed by corporations from other Asian countries and produce clothes for international brands, such as H&M, C&A and Primark.

Myanmar law prescribes a daily minimum wage of 2,48€ and a right to collective bargaining and social security, but this minimum wage is often bypassed as it only has to be paid in an employment relationship lasting more than six month. Most of the, more than 90 percent female, workforce has no contracts and work as „daily workers“. Because their payment is so low, most of them find themselves forced to accept living in slums close to the factories. To make matters worse, workers’ salaries depend on achieving a daily production target. To achieve these targets, many workers skip lunch and toilet breaks due to the high pressure. Illness – often caused by high work pressure and low sanitation standards – lead to pay cuts, because a medical certificate is quite complicated to get. Child labor is also not uncommon. One respondent explained that children have to stay at home whenever business partners visit the facilities. In addition most factories have massive safety gaps.

Many big fashion brands know about the circumstances in their production facilities, but effective control mechanisms on-site are still missing to ensure rights and health of all workers. More transparency about global supply chains is needed. The Myanmar government has signed certain ILO-Standards, but it is crucial that these standards are implemented in all factories. Furthermore, all remaining ILO standards have to be signed as well. Equally important is that the home countries of big fashion brands make sure that these companies monitor the entire supply chain and promote ethical and ecological standards. To improve the situation of many workers who satisfy the huge demand for cheap clothes from Europe, a better regulatory and social framework has to be supported by all involved. Customers of these big brands are also able to increase pressure on fashion brands and accelerate the improvement process.

You can read the whole report here.


  1. SOMO (2017): Garment brands contribute to low wages, long working hours, child labour and school dropouts in Bangladesh, 24. Januar; https://www.somo.nl/garment-brands-contribute-low-wages-long-working-hours-child-labour-school-dropouts-bangladesh/

    SOMO (2016): The leathermen of Pakistan, 19. Dezember; https://www.somo.nl/the-leathermen-of-pakistan-story/

    SOMO (2016): Health issues and low incomes threaten leather workers in Pakistan, 19. Dezember; https://www.somo.nl/health-issues-low-incomes-threaten-leather-workers-pakistan/ []

  2. SOMO (2017): The Myanmar Dilemma. Can the garment industry deliver decent jobs for workers in Myanmar? 5. Februar; https://www.somo.nl/the-myanmar-dilemma/

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