S Korean factories slammed for labour violations: report

Labour rights investigators have accused South Korean factory owners in Myanmar of a raft of abuses, including forced overtime, poor safety conditions, the use of child labour and sexual harassment of female workers. The investigating organisation, Myanmar Action Labour Rights, said the South Korean-owned factories flagrantly violate labour laws, such as mandatory weekly caps on overtime and providing contracts in Myanmar language.

ALR conducted its research in 2014 and 2015, interviewing administrators and 1200 workers from 39 garment factories in Yangon and Bago regions.

ALR director Ko Thurein Aung told The Myanmar Times on March 26 that the investigation focused primarily on South Korean-owned garment factories. It was undertaken at the suggestion of the Korean Human Rights Commission, which visited Myanmar in 2014 to study the issue.

The worst rights violations involve forced overtime and breaches of health and safety standards. In “There may be more sexual harassment than we found. We have only three female investigators, and in our culture many women would not want to discuss something like this with a man,” said Ko Thurein Aung.

Investigators were unable to follow up allegations of the use of child labourbecause, they said, both supervisors and the children themselves refused to provide information for fear of dismissal.

U Ye Naing Win, a workers’ representative on the dispute settlement arbitration council, said yesterday that improving working conditions in factories was a key issue. “The government and the garment factory owners should be made aware of this report, as the incoming government promotes further industrial development. These problems should be solved now, or they will just get bigger.”

South Korean investment is vital to Myanmar’s booming garment sector. According to industry sources, 20pc of Myanmar’s garment factories are officially South Korean-owned, with another 20pc likely run by South Koreans through locally registered companies. South Korea is the sixth-largest foreign investor in Myanmar, according to 2015 to 2016 government figures.

Last year, South Korean factories were hit with a series of strikes focused on wages. As The Myanmar Times reported, the South Korean embassy in Yangon intervened and asked the government to take action to clear picket lines.

Rights groups have repeatedly alleged that South Korean-owned factories areparticularly hostile to strikes and unions, and are known to employ corporal punishment.

“Korean companies are notorious for taking advantages at the expense of desperate garment workers,” the Korean Transnational Corporations Watch, a network of human rights and legal organisations, has said.

The South Korean embassy declined to comment on the ALR report.

Ko Thurein Aung, from ALR, said however that the protests last year have forced a modicum of change in the industry, including the introduction in September 2015 of the country’s first minimum wage.

“Korean factories conditions are getting better compared to how they were before. But, the improvement is very slow,” he said.

UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee said on social media yesterday that South Korean factories must abide by international labour standards and pay “acceptable wages” for overtime.

Asked about the report, U Aung Win, vice chair of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers’ Association, said no factory was perfect, and workers and employers had to reach a good understanding and develop good working conditions.

“We are looking forward to working with the incoming government and advising them on any complaints that could arise between workers and employers. But our association by itself cannot resolve such matters,” he said.

ALR said it will send its report to the Korean Human Rights Commission for follow-up.


Source: Myanmar Times

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