Garment giant not addressing problems at supplier in Myanmar
Today, SOMO, the Clean Clothes Campaign Netherlands (SKC) and a labour rights organisation from Myanmar (that for security reasons must remain anonymous) are submitting a complaint about C&A garment company to the Complaints and Disputes Committee of the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textiles. The reason is C&A’s substandard efforts to tackle problems at a garment factory in Myanmar. In 2018, the management of the garment factory repressed the trade union that had just started and forced employees to agree to an unfavourable bonus system. SOMO, SKC and the labour rights organisation from Myanmar hope that the complaints procedure will encourage C&A to take action.
Pauline Overeem, senior researcher at SOMO: ‘C&A likes to present itself as a front runner in the field of corporate accountability, but at the same time allows the flagrant violations of labour rights in the production chain to continue. That is unworthy of the Garment Agreement. This case is an important test case for the functioning of the complaints mechanism and for the credibility of the Garment Agreement’.
Problems at the garment factory
The garment factory is a Taiwanese clothing factory in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. C&A is an major buyer of its products.
Following the increase in the legal minimum wage in May 2018, management introduced a new bonus system. Employees feared higher production targets and lower bonuses (which would cancel out the wage increase) and spontaneously started a massive strike on 4 June 2018 to protest this new system. A municipal labour dispute committee ruled in favour of the workers, but management nonetheless forced workers to agree to the new bonus system.
Angry workers set up a trade union, but through an effective union-busting campaign, management was able to nip this development in the bud. Harassment and intimidation led to the dismissal and forced departure of workers who had played a key role in the young union. There is currently no union active in the factory.
C&A has not called the factory to account for unlawful activities
For almost two years – from July 2018 to April 2020 – the labour rights organisation from Myanmar, the Clean Clothes Campaign Netherlands and SOMO have tried, in a friendly dialogue with C&A, to find a solution to the reported problems. Unfortunately, to no avail.
Independent complaints committee must speak out
The Dutch Garment Agreement has an independent complaints and disputes committee. Injured parties in the international clothing and textile chains of companies participating in the Agreement can submit a complaint if they feel that their rights have been violated. Since the dialogue referred to above has produced no result, SKC, the labour rights organisation from Myanmar and SOMO are turning to the complaints committee today. The hope is that this will mean that this will lead to C&A assuming its responsibility by calling on the garment factory management to guarantee trade union freedom and to reinstate employees who have been unfairly dismissed or who were made to leave.
Earlier this week SKC and SOMO published their report ‘Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile. Signatory companies’ due diligence reporting comes up short’, an analysis of the reports on international corporate accountability by 34 companies that have signed the Agreement. Not only is the quality of the reports seriously substandard, but the interventions of companies to tackle abuses at their suppliers appear to be very limited as well.
Read more in our online file ‘complaint against C&A’