Myanmar: European brands linked to garment factories accused of targeting union leaders & labour abuses

Author: Kyaw Lin Htoon, Nikolaj Houmann Mortensen & Phyo Thiha Cho, Frontier, Danwatch & Myanmar Now, Published on: 11 March 2019

"Garment factories supplying EU market accused of targeting union leaders", 7 M arch 2019

... labour rights activists... say that harassment and the unfair dismissal of workers who become actively involved in labour union activities is commonplace in the footwear and garments sector... those who are fired for labour activity often find it difficult to find jobs at other factories, with some suspecting that factories share information on workers they consider troublesome.

...the practice appears to... be occurring at factories supplying a range of major European brands and retailers, despite these companies having policies in place that explicitly acknowledge workers’ right to unionise. The brands include... Adidas... [and] global discount supermarket chains Lidl and Aldi, and Bestseller, a privately owned Danish clothing retailer...

An investigation by Frontier... with Danwatch... and Myanmar Now, has found evidence of discrimination against leaders of basic labour organisations at six garment factories across Yangon supplying the four brands. The investigation also uncovered evidence supporting a range of other complaints, including inadequate time for toilet breaks and the regular use of abusive language by supervisors...

Frontier contacted each of the brands... All said that they had investigated the allegations and were taking steps to address them, including holding meetings with suppliers...

...on October 15, dozens of men armed with rubber truncheons and iron and wooden rods descended on about 200 [striking] workers who were gathered in front of the [Fu Yuen] factory... Workers were badly beaten... with four hospitalised... head of communications at Lidl Denmark, said the events... at Fu Yuen were “unacceptable”... Lidl’s partner in Myanmar... “negotiated intensively” for the reinstatement of the fired union members... Asked about more recent allegations of discrimination towards union members... Lidl had already urged representatives of the factory management and the workers to meet...[H]ead of corporate responsibility at Aldi Denmark, said it took the case “very seriously” and had dispatched representatives to the factory to assess conditions...

In late December, the [Shyang Jhuo Yue Co Ltd] factory... shut down after refusing to comply with a Yangon Region Arbitration Council ruling to reinstate a sacked workplace union member... [A] spokesperson.. said Adidas has actively encouraged the factory management to continue discussions... to address possible concerns... [and] is “committed to ensuring fair labour practices, fair wages and safe working conditions... throughout our global supply chain”...

In January 2015... [a] crackdown killed off the basic labour organisation that had recently formed in the Costec factory; no union has been formed since... [Bestsellter] social sustainability manager... confirmed that Costec had produced goods for Bestseller... She declined to comment on specific cases but said... the company works with external parties who provide training for Chinese workplace leaders... The company also collaborates with trade unions, including CTUM, “to avoid precisely the situation where workers are being fired [for wanting] to form a union”...

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Related companies: adidas Aldi Bestseller Lidl