A Myanmar garment factory.Photo: @Martje Theuws | SOMO

Complaint procedure against C&A fails to make progress

Since July 2020, SOMO, Clean Clothes Campaign Netherlands (SKC) and a labour rights organisation (‘Z’) from Myanmar For security reasons, we will not mention the name of this organisation.  The military junta that seized power in Myanmar on 1 February 2021 declared this and other labour rights organisations banned without giving a reason in June 2021. have been involved in a long-running complaints procedure against Dutch garment brand C&A at the Complaints and Disputes Committee of the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garment and Textiles. The complaint that SOMO, SKC and Z filed revolves around the failure of C&A to act against labour rights violations in one of their supplier factories in Myanmar. In July 2021, a full year after the complaint was filed, the Complaints Committee issued an interim ruling.

Interim decision leaves much to be desired

Although the interim decision of the Complaints Committee contained a number of important points, SOMO, SKC and Z were disappointed with the core conclusion of the decision. The Complaints Committee stated that C&A was only “involved” in the labour rights violations at the factory in Myanmar through its buying relationship, while we are of the opinion that C&A made a substantial contribution to the problems described in the complaint. Find our detailed analysis of the interim decision here.

One more hearing

For a long time, SOMO, SKC and Z have insisted on a final decision and the formal closure of the complaint procedure. Unfortunately, it took months for the next step to occur. Only recently, we were informed that there will be a third hearing on Tuesday 11 January 2022. The parties (SOMO, SKC & Z, and C&A) have been asked to submit a closing memorandum.

Impact of the military coup

Meanwhile, the situation in Myanmar has not improved. On the contrary, trade unions, labour rights organisations and critical citizens have been hit hard by the extremely violent military coup of 1 February 2021. In response to the chaos in the country, international companies are withdrawing from Myanmar. SOMO and SKC have therefore asked C&A several times in recent months to provide clarity about their buying relationships with suppliers in Myanmar and in particular about their relationship with the factory that is the subject of the complaint. C&A has not answered any of our questions

The most recent list of C&A suppliers in the Open Apparel Registry (OAR) shows only 8 factories in Myanmar. The factory in question is no longer listed. A previous list of C&A's suppliers These previous versions of supplier lists of C&A cannot be found online anymore. SOMO has downloaded versions in its possession. in Myanmar listed 48 factories, so it seems that C&A has ended its relation with the factory in question.

The factory is currently closed. Sources in Yangon report that the factory’s management is engaged in consultations with workers about a severance package. Other sources in Myanmar say that the factory will reopen in December. What role C&A is playing in the closure and reopening of the factory is completely unclear.

In the current crisis situation in Myanmar, C&A has an extra responsibility to look after the interests of workers of current and former suppliers. In its interim decision, the Complaints Committee called on C&A to be more transparent and to make use of the knowledge and expertise of local and international stakeholders. C&A’s unwillingness to share information with SOMO, SKC and Z shows the opposite.

Who will follow up the rulings of the Complaints Committee?

We are very concerned about the follow-up of the interim decision of the Complaints Committee. The Complaints Committee itself says it cannot play a role in this and refers to the Secretariat of the Garment Agreement.

We were told that the Secretariat is not allowed to interfere in an ongoing procedure. However, with the interim decision, the procedure was formally closed according to the Complaints Committee. The Complaints Committee told us that we had to re-open the procedure in order to request a final decision. In our view, the Secretariat could have followed up with C&A in the period between the interim ruling and the formal reopening of the complaint procedure.

The Agreement’s Secretariat is unable to say whether the interim decision including C&A’s lack of transparency and failed stakeholder engagement, have been discussed with C&A. The Secretariat can only report in general terms that all steps of the due diligence process are considered in company assessments, and that addressing actual abuses and stakeholder engagement are important topics for discussion with companies.

The Garment Agreement is expiring – who will look after the workers?

The mandate of the current Garment Agreement expires on 31 December 2021. It is unclear how the final decision of the Complaints Committee will be followed up after the hearing of 11 January 2022. In any case, the current Secretariat can no longer play a role in this.

Talks on a “next generation agreement” have been going on for months. The parties involved in the negotiation process believe that there will be a new agreement in the spring of 2022, but it remains to be seen whether this will actually happen. It is also unclear whether this potential successor to the Garment Agreement will adopt or carry out earlier decisions by the Complaints Committee.