Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Analysis of Myanmar's garment sector

"After Bangladesh Tragedy, Questions for Burma’s Garment Sector," The Irrawaddy, 11 June 2013.
...Burma’s low-wage workforce of some 33 million people could prove tempting to manufacturers globally. But labor rights groups are urging Burma to get it right when it comes to responsibly managing any new wave of labor-intensive job opportunities...
Bangladesh has seen its international business reputation as a low-wage manufacturing enclave tainted by serious questions about the country’s ability to ensure a safe work environment for its people...  the situation in Bangladesh should serve as a cautionary tale as Burma’s garment industry sees renewed interest from foreign firms... The garment industry has historically been a first-phase path to development for impoverished nations, as it requires little initial capital investment and is well-suited to low-skilled labor. “They’ve got to take some notes from the calamities in Bangladesh: to invest well in infrastructure and, frankly, to pay decent wages,” Gearhart said... The industry has some way to go, however, before it can compete with Bangladesh’s garment exports, which stand at about $20 billion annually... Washington is also considering granting Burma Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) status, which would allow for duty-free imports on more than 5,000 items, including much of the garment world’s products. The European Union has already reinstated Burma’s GSP status in the 27-nation bloc... The labor rights group Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) insists that in a rush to attract outside entrepreneurs, important worker protections may get short shrift.... A new minimum wage law has been passed by Parliament, according to Marshall, but some of the legislation’s regulatory provisions are still being drafted. The ILO liaison declined to reveal the contents of the law until it is made public, but given the country’s economic position, Burma will likely continue to offer manufacturers one of the cheapest labor pools in the region... “Unfortunately we’re working in a situation where there is almost no statistics or knowledge of the shape, size or nature of the labor market,” Marshall said. His organization is in the middle of conducting a household survey to rectify that problem... The ILO, which for more than a decade worked in Burma primarily within the limited scope of eliminating forced labor in the country, is now taking on an increasingly ambitious portfolio. The organization is working on a wide range of issues, from better educating Burma’s future workforce to ensuring that employees understand the proper procedure for carrying out a strike, in a country where labor unions were banned until just last year. The garment industry is one of two economic sectors that will be a focus of the ILO’s efforts and will serve as a staging ground for comprehensive “good practice modeling,” Marshall said.

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