Thursday, 6 June 2013

ILO's Steve Marshal on Myanmar's garment sector

The Myanmar Times provides some analysis ("Brand Myanmar grabs the global spotlight," 3 June 2013) on foreign investment into Myanmar's garment sector:
"...Recent disasters at factories in Bangladesh also have them looking for new countries to source from. “I don’t think we have seen the fallout from Bangladesh yet,” said Steve Marshall, the liaison officer of the International Labour Organisation in Myanmar.
Several global brands have contacted his office as part of their research. “Obviously they are concerned about reputational risk,” he said, adding that they are “doing their due diligence, seeking reports on broader human rights and also specifically on labour market issues”.
Steps are also being taken to prepare the legal basis for the implementation of a Better Factories program here, which will allow ILO monitors to assess factories for compliance with labour laws and ILO conventions. This will provide Western brands some confidence that their images will not be tarnished if they outsource production to Myanmar factories.
“Essentially what everybody has agreed is that at this stage it is too early to introduce a Better Work type scheme here because the legal structures do not exist for it,” Mr Marshall said, citing the absence of a minimum wage law and another covering occupational health and safety as examples.
These laws are, however, expected to be tabled during parliament’s next session, which begins on June 25.
Besides input from the ILO, the labour ministry is also receiving technical assistance on developing labour laws – as well as the garment industry as a whole – from the European Union, trade-related agencies of Western governments seeking bilateral deals with Myanmar, and global buyers, industry representatives and officials said.
The ILO is helping develop a legal framework for the industry, enforcement mechanisms, and a more nimble association for factory owners as well as trade unions. A major goal, according to Mr Marshall, is a labour market that is “cooperative rather than confrontational”.
He’s betting that this can be achieved by ensuring “constructive social dialogue” between factory owners and workers so that the interests of both sides are taken into account in the decision-making process. It is a goal he acknowledges will be tricky to pull off in a country that recently emerged from 50 years of military rule.
“This country has basically been an orders-based environment. Orders were issued, orders were received, orders were passed on and orders were obeyed,” Mr Marshall said. “This applied in all environments, including the workplace.”
An attitude shift is needed among employers as well as workers, he added. “A non-profitable company does not employ staff … so we have make sure that companies can be competitive and maintain profitability, and that is achieved not on the back of low wages but on high productivity, high quality, low waste and less rework.”
Mr Marshall believes that Myanmar’s advantage is that it is starting from scratch, and that this allows the formation of effective unions and industry associations as well as a collaborative approach to creating a garment sector that benefits both. “I actually believe [starting from scratch] creates opportunities, which if we are all clever we could actually use for very useful ends in terms of developing not just the economy but … society,” he said, adding that “what goes on in the workplace is a microcosm of what goes on outside”.

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