South Korean Firms Abusing Myanmar Workers: Report


South Korean-owned garment manufacturers in Myanmar are widely flouting labor law, with almost 30 percent of factories failing to observe overtime rules, a new report says.

The report by Action Labor Rights, an advocacy group in Myanmar, alleges that factories wholly or jointly run by Korean firms regularly violate labor law, including a 16-hour weekly limit on overtime.

Among 1,200 employees interviewed at 39 factories, 62 percent reported not being able to refuse to work hours beyond the legal limit, while 63 percent said they did not make enough money to live comfortably. In addition, 15 percent of workers said they had worked extra hours without compensation.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Thirty percent of workers reported receiving payslips in only Korean or English, in violation of the law, while just 22 percent said they could take advantage of their legal entitlement to 30 days of medical leave, according to the report released Friday. Just 67 percent of factories had legally-required emergency exits, a quarter of which were inaccessible.

The study also concludes that child labor is “prevalent,” but unquantifiable due to reticence among workers fearful underage workers could be fired if they spoke out.

“Children are given tasks like ironing and stretching using heavy weights,” one anonymous worker is quoted as saying in the report. “If they know how to sew, they are asked to do sewing. Sometimes they are physically abused by supervisors or shift leaders if they make some mistakes. But nobody interferes.”

In summarizing its findings, ALR called on the South Korean government to ensure its firms upheld international labor standards.

“The data gathered in this survey demonstrated that while some parts of the Korean garment industry in Myanmar are compliant with the majority of Myanmar labor laws, an alarming number are in regular breach particularly concerning excessive overtime, illegal deductions, and factory working conditions including health and safety, and harassment,” it said.

The Korean firms surveyed include Daesung Garment and Process, World Jin Garment and Shin Sung Bago. The report does not specify which firms have been in violation of labor law and which have not.

South Korean factories employ 37 percent of workers in Myanmar’s garment industry, according to the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association. South Korea was responsible for 7 percent of all foreign investment in the Southeast Asian country in 2015.

Myanmar introduced its first minimum wage last year following several years of dispute between workers and employers, setting it at around $2.80 a day.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief