“Exerting international pressure and solidarity from our allies are the driving forces. Your support is essential to success when addressing abuses in the supply chains of international brands.”
Trade unionist Daw Myo Aye free after international pressure
For years Daw Myo Aye from Myanmar (Burma) has been fighting for labour rights, freedom of association and the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups. She paid dearly for this mission when the army staged a coup in February 2021. Since the coup, the army has been brutally violating human rights and has turned, with extreme violence, against demonstrating citizens, workers, activists, labour rights organisations and trade unions.
Under this reign of terror, more than 1800 civilians (May 2022) have already been killed by the army since the coup. Thousands of people were imprisoned. Daw Myo Aye, well-known in her country as a human rights activist, was also detained. She is the director of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar (STUM), an independent trade union in the country.
Civil disobedience Movement
Daw Myo Aye continued to actively support (garment) workers in their struggle for wages and the right to organise, although the military declared independent labour rights organisations illegal soon after the coup. She actively participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement against the illegal regime and to restore democracy.
This had major consequences for the union leader and on April 15, 2021, four army trucks stopped in front of her office. Daw Myo Aye was dragged out and the phones of her employees were taken away. Many other union leaders fled or went into hiding to protect themselves and their families. Solitary confinement
For months Daw Myo Aye was locked up in the notorious Insein Prison in Yangon. Her health was failing and essential medicine that her family brought to the prison did not reach her. The union leader was in solitary confinement: even her lawyer was not allowed to visit her.
After much international attention was drawn to her case and those of other political prisoners, Daw Myo Aye was finally released in October 2021, along with nearly six thousand other political prisoners.
The Clean Clothes Campaign network supported the campaign for Daw Myo Aye's release by publicising the case and through diplomatic lobbying. In such a volatile situation, our message to garment brands is that they should take responsibility and above all prioritise workers’ rights.
Incitement to dissent
Unfortunately, the nightmare is not over yet, and the people of Myanmar are still suffering under the violent military regime. More than ten thousand people have been arrested, charged or convicted without cause, since the coup in February 2021.
Myo Aye told the Clean Clothes network after her release, through a local journalist: "The dictatorship makes it impossible to stand up for labour rights. Meetings of five or more people are forbidden. Trade union leaders and human rights activists are imprisoned for incitement to dissent. The army tries to scare everyone by imposing extreme punishments: life sentences, the death penalty and detention camps." Despite these very difficult circumstances, Daw Myo Aye continues to do what she can to stand up for human rights in Myanmar.
Clean Clothes Campaign calls on the international community to increase efforts to oppose the military junta and to actively condemn the ongoing violations of human rights with the strongest measures. We call for a restoration of democracy and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of association. All political prisoners must be released.
Responsibility of garment brands
Garment brands should also speak out. Many European brands have had clothing produced in the country for years. Because of the coup, many clothing companies have left and are intending to leave the country. Clothing brands should ensure that workers and their families, who are in their supply chains, are protected from human rights violations. This means heightened due diligence that prioritises workers’ safety and their rights.
Furthermore, clothing brands that withdraw production from Myanmar must do so responsibly. For example, by fulfilling all existing commitments and payments and ensuring that workers receive all wages, severance and benefits owed to them. This is of vital importance to the people in the factories. In addition, clothing brands should not do business with suppliers with ties to the military and they should be open about how they ensure respect for human rights in their supply chain.
Show your support for Daw Myo Aye and the citizens of Myanmar.
Post a selfie showing you raising three fingers on social media. Three raised fingers is the sign of the Civil Disobedience Movement, which fights non-violently against the junta's illegal regime and for democracy and freedom.
In Myanmar about 700,000 people work in the garment industry, the vast majority (90 percent) are women. They structurally earn too little to support their families and sometimes work up to 20 hours overtime per week. Many of them feel unsafe at work and they often face harassment and (sexual) violence in the workplace. There are also issues surrounding factory safety. The coup, combined with the covid pandemic has led to job losses, poverty and economic instability, with serious consequences for garment workers and their families. In factories with layoffs, union leaders and members are often the first to go.