Image source: NY Times
One of the 8 standards that constitutes an ethical factory is the right to unionize, meaning, workers can join a union without repercussions in their job. Another key standard is no discrimination which includes political affiliation or sentiment among other things. Which brings us to the recent protests that have been taking place in Myanmar and the news that broke of a garment factory locking workers inside to prevent protest. Here's what happened and how we should respond.
What's Going On?
On February 1st, a military coup overthrew Myanmar's developing democratic government placing Myanmar back in control by military rule. Citizens internet has been cut off and they have been protesting for weeks. This has lead to violence that has caused people to be injured and many dead. We encourage you to read more here if this subject matter interests you.
Myanmar's Fashion Industry
Myanmar is the home to many manufactures that produce for fast fashion brands like Primark and Inditex (Zara). In fact, as brands have sought alternatives to China, Myanmar's garment manufacturing has grown fivefold from $900MM to $4.49BN from 2012 to 2018 alone (South China Morning Post). Around 600 factories employ 450,000 workers, 90% which are female (The World).
Where do the protests come in?
While the protests were happening the military wanted to protect the countries exports. How did they do this? By trapping its garment workers in the factory so that they were unable to protest. About 1,000 workers were trapped inside. After hours of trying, they finally managed to break out. According to workers, about 20 of them were fired for missing shifts and taking part in the protest. Due to workers across the country refusing to work, trade and banking have been frozen. Representatives from the factory have denied all allegations of locking workers in and firing them. Garment workers are calling on western brands to step in for their rights.
The Case for Ethically Certified Factories
Two weeks ago, H&M became the first brand to confirm that is would cease placing further orders with its 45 suppliers in Myanmar (NY Times). Anyone who has worked in production for big brands can imagine the amount of business that just cost the factories. But more importantly, and our main concern, is this will now mean a great loss of jobs for the most vulnerable in Myanmar - garment workers already working for a meager $99/month salary (ILO 2016, minimum wage has risen from $3.00 to $5.50/hour since this article). While fast fashion has a long way to go to increase their standards for people and planet, any Irish exit from a big brand like H&M means massive revenue loss and job loss for that country's garment sector and workers.
What You can Do
By working with ethically certified factories you are choosing suppliers who are ensuring basic workers rights such as no discrimination and right to unionize. You are choosing progress and partnership over cancellation. You are choosing to shift the collective fashion industry's supply chain in the direction of better standards and treatment of people which in turn can create more safe, sustainable employment for people in developing nations.
THR3EFOLD is gearing up for the public beta launch of our ethical manufacturing platform (BIG NEWS!) where you can gain access to a database of ethically certified factories across the globe, request pricing, and manage production all in one place. Join the waitlist to be the first in line.