BSR Report – Addressing Child Labour in Myanmar’s Garment Sector


‘Made in Myanmar’ is ready to make a comeback, with U.S. and EU markets newly re-opened for trade with Myanmar’s garment manufacturers  newly re-opened for trade with Myanmar’s garment manufacturers.

Buyers and investors are back in Yangon looking for opportunities, attracted in part by the country’s low labor costs. However, Myanmar has spent over a decade cut off from Western markets and the compliance culture that has evolved around social and environmental management of supply chains. Meeting buyer expectations now requires not only investing to meet higher requirements for speed and quality, but also ensuring that labor practices meet or exceed international standards.

Child labor is a particular area of concern. In a country with high levels of poverty, low rates of secondary school enrollment, and weak enforcement of labor laws, child labor is unsurprisingly a common option for families in need of additional income. Underage workers (younger than 14, the legal minimum) are prevalent in many sectors, ranging from construction to teashops.

What is a responsible buyer to do? So far, many buyers have chosen to limit their risk and exposure by working solely with established foreign-owned suppliers that already have years of experience adhering to supplier codes of conduct. These factories often require a minimum age for their workers of 16 or even 18, higher than the national legal requirement, which helps to reduce the risk of child labor in a country where age verification is difficult.

While this may be an effective strategy for managing reputational risk, it ignores the broader context and real challenges of widespread poverty and scarce educational opportunities in Myanmar. It also neglects the potential for international investment and supply chains to contribute to a future where children in Myanmar spend their days in school, not in factories. And it overlooks the real risk that the use of child labor outside of responsible companies’ own supply chains will tarnish the “Made in Myanmar” brand.

This report explains the context of child labor in Myanmar, both across sectors and specifically for garment manufacturing. Because there is no comprehensive data on the role of children in the garment sector, the findings are primarily based on interviews with key industry observers and participants. These findings include:

  • Young workers are participating in the garment sector but usually make up a small percentage of a factory’s workforce, and underage workers are rare. However, young workers are often working the same hours as adults, and laws regulating their working hours and conditions are not being enforced.
  • Increased access to U.S. and European markets is reshaping the garment industry, but the majority of factories are not yet selling to U.S. and European buyers, and their labor practices are lagging.

As the garment manufacturing industry grows, the risk factors for child labor could change as well. The demand for low-cost labor will increase as new garment factories open. Other sectors of the economy are growing as well, heightening the competition for skilled workers. Meanwhile, new minimum wage requirements are also affecting the profile of labor demand, and changes in industry structure could increase the risk of child labor if subcontracting and third-party suppliers become more common.


To prevent and remediate child labor, buyers and investors should support the establishment of a protective framework. This will require consistent and sustained action by diverse stakeholders, including:

  • Enacting clear and coherent laws and regulations
  • Fostering cultural norms that prioritize education for children until the legal minimum working age
  • Ensuring livelihoods for adults that can support the entire household
  • Implementing a system of monitoring and enforcement that includes workers, management, inspectors, unions, and community members

Building this protective framework is a long-term prospect, and an ongoing due diligence approach that addresses uncertainties and broader systemic challenges will be crucial to successful sourcing operations. However, buyers and investors can also significantly contribute in the following ways:

  • In the workplace, by providing enhanced training and tools for recruitment and hiring, as well as clear guidelines and systems to ensure good working conditions for young workers. Young workers who are legally employed but who do not meet the minimum working age of supplier Codes of Conduct should not be terminated. Awareness-raising for workers and effective feedback mechanisms will help to ensure that workers themselves are actively involved in prevention and remediation of child labor.
  • For the sector, by supporting initiatives on prevention and remediation of child labor for the whole industry—such as the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers’ Association Framework of Action for preventing and remediating child labor—and pursuing partnerships with key government agencies.
  • Meanwhile, appropriate remediation for underage and young workers should include improved access to education—including non-formal options—and support for effective case management. Broader support for awareness-raising efforts with families and communities, and creation of safety nets for households, would also help to change a societal context in Myanmar that currently enables child labor.

Underlying and informing all of these efforts should be a child rights-based approach, which recognizes the agency and rights of children to participate in decisions about their future. In the context of widespread social acceptance of child labor, it is essential to consider not only international norms about what is best for children, but also individual circumstances and preferences. Programs should be voluntary and aligned with the physical and mental health needs and socioeconomic constraints that young workers face—while also meeting national and global standards for child labor.

Source: Business for Social Responsibility

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