“The military is shooting everyone on the road, so safety is a big issue we [garment workers] face even to go to work.” – Ko Aung, Federation of General Workers Myanmar.
PayUp Fashion organized a press conference on March 30, 2021, following the bloodiest 48 hours in Myanmar’s pro-democracy fight. The press conference let the Western press hear directly from local union leaders, providing the opportunity for workers to share their ongoing struggle for democracy and their lives since a military coup took over the country in February. The women union leaders also shared what they expect of international fashion brands and how the world can support Myanmar garment makers. Myanmar is a key garment-production hub, sewing clothes for major fast fashion brands like H&M, Primark, Zara, and Mango.
Union leaders on the call included:
- Ko Aung from FGWM – Federation of General Workers Myanmar
- Kha Kha from LHEO – Let’s Help Each Other
- Myo Myo Aye from STUM – Solidarity Trade Union Of Myanmar
- Andrew Tillett-Saks, union organizer from Solidarity Center, based in Myanmar
- Wiranta Ginting – Asia Floor Wage Alliance Deputy Intl Coordinator
Peaceful protests have been taking place across Myanmar since the military seized control on February 1, and the crackdown against pro-Democracy protestors, many of whom are garment workers, has been lethal. In the last two months, over 500 people have been killed. Workers on the call described a horrific March 15 massacre against garment workers. “That day about 60 people peaceful protestors were dead and hundreds people were injured and 1000s of people were arrested,” according to a rough translation of garment worker, Ko Aung from the Federation of General Workers Myanmar.
The union leaders also said some factories have burned down and most are now shutters and workers have fled back to their hometowns in the countryside to escape the violence. “Workers are very worried about their safety if they are on the road, because the military is shooting everyone on the road, so safety is a big issue we [garment workers] face even to go to work,” added Aung.
“I think it’s hard to say that [brands] don’t already have quite a bit of blood on their hands.” – Andrew Tillett-Saks, an organizer for Solidarity Center.
Given the severity of the crisis, workers have clear demands and expectations of the international community and fashion brands and say that fashion brands have so far failed them. “I think it’s hard to say that [brands] don’t already have quite a bit of blood on their hands,” said Andrew Tillett-Saks, an organizer for Solidarity Center. Brands were asked to support the workers’ right to protest the coup, and only one brand stepped forward. They add that they have not received any financial aid or meaningful support from brands or international governments.
In response to the Myanmar coup, union leaders laid out a clear calls to action for fashion brands, citizens, government, and media, as follows:
How to Support the Pro-Democracy Movement in Myanmar
1. Brands must urge their suppliers to support workers’ rights to protest and participate in the civil disobedience movement against the military coup. This includes specifically ensuring that workers can take leave for as long as they need (for safety or protest reasons) without dismissal.
2. Brands must halt orders from factories that support the military regime.
3. Brands must ensure that worker wages and severance are paid through the crisis. Many workers who are yet to be paid have fled to rural areas and are in need of food.
Unions are demanding that foreign governments impose comprehensive economic sanctions to pressure the military and to support workers fighting for democracy.
Workers in Myanmar are currently owed back wages, with some factories having shut down. They need money to keep protesting.
You can support the strike fund organized by the APALA, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. All of the funds are going directly to worker-led organizations in Myanmar.
For more information regarding the press conference and the Myanmar workers’ plight, see coverage in High Snobiety, EcoTextile and Just.Style.