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Rangoon Sweat Shops under Fire
- Subject: Rangoon Sweat Shops under Fire
- From: Thakin@xxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000 14:40:00
TITLE : RANGOON SWEAT SHOPS UNDER FIRE
AUTHOR : William Barnes in the South China Morning Post
VIA : The Rangoon Post - Free Burma Independent Media
DATE: Tuesday, July 11, 2000
Hong Kong factory owners have become the target of activists in the United
States after helping to fuel a sharp rise in Burma's clothing exports to
the world's most lucrative consumer market.
Garment makers operating in the military-run country are able to pay
perhaps the lowest rates for piece work - as little as four US cents an
hour, claims the New York-based National Labour Committee (NLC). This is
significantly lower than even the hourly take-home pay of so-called "sweat
shop" workers in Bangladesh, 13-20 US cents, Indonesia, 20 US cents, or the
mainland, 28 US cents, the NLC said.
Moreover, the workers' rights group complained, profits from clothing
factories in Burma go directly to help an unpopular, incompetent and widely
criticised regime stay in power.
"This is the worst sort of labour exploitation - it is the height of
irresponsibility," said Phil Robertson, the Thailand country director of
the Solidarity Centre, an American non-government organisation concerned
with labour issues. "Hong Kong factory owners who go in there are the
lowest of the low as far as the international garment industry is
concerned," he said.
This is vigorously disputed by Jerry Pang, of Victoria Garments in Kowloon.
"As far as we are concerned we are helping the people out. Our type of
labour-intensive industry helps people the most in a poor country such as
Burma," he said.
Burma's clothing exports to the US climbed by 85 per cent in the first
quarter of this year, after rising by 45 per cent last year and 49 per cent
in 1998. According to a United States embassy commercial guide, in 1998
there were about 30 textile and garment factories in Burma, at least half
of them wholly or partly foreign-owned "mostly by Hong Kong or South Korean
It said joint ventures were usually either with Burma Textile Industries, a
state firm, or with the Union of Burma Economic Holdings, one of the
military's commercial arms.
There are other dangers. The NLC report noted that Wal-Mart Canada imported
at least one shipload of garments this year from Every Green (Burma)
Overseas - a factory controlled by former drug warlord Lo Hsing Han, whose
son is banned from the US on suspicion of involvement in drug trafficking.
The following factories have Hong Kong owners according to a recent
official list of businesses: Burma Winner Garment Manufacturing, Burma
Unimix International, Rangoon Knit Garment Manufacturing, Burma Euroworld
International, Group Link (Burma), Rangoon Sportswear Manufacturing, Prime
Industrial, Rangoon Garment Manufacturing, Yantzekiang Industries (Burma)
and Eastern World. All, save the last two, are listed as joint ventures.
The latest campaign against Burma-based garment makers points out the risks
of doing business with a regime which has become a favourite target of
The NLC is sending stiff letters to the likes of Warner Bros, Bugle Boy,
Jordache, Kohl's, Adidas and Nautica asking why they import from Burma.
Whereas activists want other cheap labour centres to adhere to minimal
labour standards they argue that factory owners should steer clear of Burma
"Burma has the worst name in the US. I can assure manufacturers that the
American labour movement will run down every movement out of Burma," said
Mr Robertson. "You cannot do business in Burma without consorting with the
US jeans-maker Levi Strauss pulled out of Burma saying: "Under current
circumstances it is not possible to do business in Burma without directly
supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human
The International Labour Organisation has suspended Burma, and asked its
174 member countries to review their relations with it, because of the
regime's widespread use of forced labour.
In a sign of the power of lobby groups, the sportswear-maker Adidas quickly
denied that it sources bags from Burma any longer. A company representative
said pictures of "Adidas - Made in Burma labels" on the NLC Web site must
either be old or of counterfeits.
But, Mr Pang argued, sanctions hurt the very people they were designed to
help: "No country is more sanctioned against than North Korea or Cuba yet
they are still run by die-hard dictators. Only the people are suffering."
When Victoria Garments opened its joint-venture factory - with the Ministry
of Industry's textiles division in 1989 - more than 2,000 young Burmese
queued in monsoon rain for 400 jobs.
The group soon had four factories operating in the country.
"They are proud people and proud people make good workers. They believe in
what they are doing," Mr Pang said. "If you learn of the country from
reading a newspaper you would not touch it with a 10-foot pole but in
reality it is not so bad." Mr Pang cited high literacy and more than 50
per cent unemployment as creating a crying need for jobs. "And Burma is a
very good production place for us. There are no hidden costs. "I can tell
you the country is relatively uncorrupt. Against Indonesia or the
Philippines there is no comparison."