Myanmar: Labour activists charged for role in garment factory strike over working conditions; Includes intl. brand responses

In September 2019, police brought charges against a civil society leader and seven labour leaders for their role in a strike over alleged labour rights abuses at Myanmar Knitting Factory in Pathein Industrial Zone, Myanmar. According to workers, Myanmar Knitting produces for international brands including C&A, Inditex and Holly & Whyte (Lindex). 

The eight labour activists facing charges for their role in the garment factory strike

The eight labour activists facing charges for their role in the garment factory strike

Over 1,000 workers are reported to have taken part in the strike, whose 45 demands included concerns over health and safety, wages and benefits, and excessive working hours. The strike ended after all demands were agreed, following negotiations between worker representatives and factory management.

However, charges remain against the eight labour activists under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which rights groups say restricts the right to peaceful assembly and violates international standards. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma has recognised the charges against the eight activists as politically motivated and has included them in its 'Awaiting Trial' list

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited C&A, Inditex and Lindex to respond to the charges against the eight labour activists following the strike over working conditions at Myanmar Knitting. The brands all responded and confirmed the dispute over working conditions has been resolved. Only C&A addressed the charges against the labour leaders, who said that while it cannot publicly comment on an ongoing case between a state authority in a producing country and its citizens, it is closely monitoring the situation and hopes it will be resolved soon. The full responses are included below. 

This is a developing story and we will continue to monitor the situation and update as we receive further information. 

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All components of this story

Company response
7 November 2019

C&A's response

Author: C&A

... A workers’ strike at Myanmar Knitting Factory was initiated on 2 September 2019. C&A was informed... and our local team was in close contact with the factory and the workers to potentially support a smooth settlement of the case...

[After negotiation meetings]... the Factory Management informed us that an... agreement on all the 45 demands was signed between the Workers Representation and the Factory Management, with a witness of a civil society representative and an industrial relations mediator... With that, the dispute was settled between both parties...

... [T]he charges against the seven labour leaders who have participated in the strike have been drawn by the Pathein Myanmar Police. C&A is closely monitoring the situation. As a standard business practice, C&A cannot publicly comment on a situation that concerns ongoing cases between a state authority in a producing country and its citizens. What we can confirm is that the seven affected workers have continued their work as usual in the factory.

We dearly hope that the case affecting the seven workers will be resolved as soon as possible...

Download the full document here

Company response
5 November 2019

Inditex's response

Author: Inditex

... Inditex has performed four social audits in the factory showing compliance with our Code of Conduct. Each audit produces a corrective action plan for the continuous improvement of the factory conditions, which are followed up by Inditex’s social sustainability teams. Direct supplier is always involved in these processes and takes responsibility for the welfare of the workers in the factory.

As soon as we received information about a worker strike in the factory we immediately contacted the supplier in order to receive more information... and to monitor that workers’ rights were being respected. This process resulted in the signature of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by factory and workers which consequence was the restating of the factory operation as a result of this agreement...

Download the full document here

Company response
29 October 2019

Lindex's response

Author: Lindex

Thank you very much for drawing our attention to this event. We were already aware of what had happened through our local office in Myanmar, who investigated the matter. They found that it was a gathering of workers who protested against poor working conditions regarding among other issues, water and sanitation. The problem was resolved quickly and as far as I know to everyone's satisfaction. We regret what has happened and will have a close dialogue with the factory to monitor the situation from now on.

Download the full document here

16 October 2019

Myanmar: Labour activists facing charges recognised as 'political prisoners' by civil society group

Author: Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma

"Month in Review for September", 16 October 2019

...In September the following cases illustrate the threats faced for activists across the country:

... Seven garment workers from Myanmar Knitting Company in Pathein Industrial Zone in Ayeyarwaddy Division and one labor activist are facing charges under Section 19 of [the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law] ...

Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Speech are threatened by the use of [the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law]... Accordingly, AAPP urges the government to amend these laws urgently... 

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4 September 2019

Myanmar: Police charge labour leaders for role in garment factory strikes over poor working conditions

Author: Salai Thant Zin, The Irrawaddy

"Chinese-Owned Garment Factory Strikers Sued by Myanmar Police", 4 September 2019

... Police... opened a case against seven labor strike leaders and a labor activist... in connection with a strike at Myanmar Knitting, a Chinese-invested garment factory in Pathein Industrial Zone. Over 1,000 workers took part in the sit-in...

According to strike leaders, workers are not allowed to go to the bathroom during overtime. The factory management also did not repair the broken bathroom doors and failed to provide enough fans and drinking water... Workers are not given annual leave...They also complained about increased workloads...

Pathein Township police chief.., said strike leaders did not comply... [with] the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law. “... As they failed to comply, we have taken legal action,”...

... [T]he sit-in was [later] canceled as the 45 [worker] demands were met, as the factory agreed to fulfill them, and employees would... [go] back to work...

The factory makes clothes for firms like Zara, Holly & Whyte and C&A... according to factory workers...

Read the full post here