Addressing Child Labor in Myanmar’s Garment Sector: From Understanding to Action

May 20, 2016
  • Chris Fletcher

    Former Associate, BSR

As excitement around Myanmar’s democratic transition continues, so, too, does hope from investors that the nascent Myanmar market can provide ongoing and long-term investment prospects. However, with child labor still a widespread phenomenon, investing responsibly requires understanding and properly addressing this challenge. If approached in a careful and considered way, investors can work toward the elimination of child labor and build local capacity and standards, all while contributing to the country’s sustainable socioeconomic development.

With support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), BSR has written a report, “Child Labor in Myanmar’s Garment Sector: Challenges and Recommendations,” and is launching a new initiative, Investing in Myanmar’s Young Workers, aimed at addressing child labor in Myanmar’s garment sector.

Based on extensive stakeholder interviews, the report provides context into child labor in Myanmar’s apparel industry, along with recommendations for tackling it. The report analyzes the multidimensional causes of child labor, which include poverty, inadequate education, and uneven regulation and enforcement. Further, the report explores the challenges that factories face, such as the difficulty of verifying the age of job applicants. Finally, the report examines how the risk of child labor might evolve over time. For instance, if buyers begin to place bulk orders that include work children are capable of completing, and if older and more skilled workers are attracted to other sectors that offer more attractive compensation, children could be left to fill the labor gap.

For all these reasons, eliminating child labor in Myanmar cannot occur overnight. Children need adequate educational alternatives, laws need to be passed and enforced, and parents need the ability to earn sufficient income to remove the pressure they feel to send their children to work. None of these conditions exist at present. 

Overcoming this challenge requires a multistakeholder approach, which the report outlines. To start, companies and investors must take a child-rights-based approach when conducting their human rights due diligence. The government must enact—and investors can push for—clear and coherent laws and regulations that protect the rights of children. Companies and investors can also invest in communities, focusing on shifting cultural norms to prioritize education for children and ensure livelihoods for adults that support the entire household. Finally, companies should implement monitoring and enforcement systems that include workers, management, inspectors, unions, and community members.

The democratic transition in Myanmar promises the opportunity of socioeconomic development in the country, and through a holistic and considered approach, investors and businesses can work toward ending child labor and ensuring that children’s rights are respected. And when all stakeholders play their part, new opportunities for responsible investment in Myanmar will arise.

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