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BANGKOK – A new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) claims Myanmar trade unions and civil society organisations face existential threat following military takeover. Riding out the storm: Organizational resilience of trade unions and civil society organizations following the military takeover in Myanmar details the severe impact of the February 2021 takeover on trade unions and CSOs.

Some unions have called for apparel brands to divest from Myanmar in recent months, claiming due diligence is not possible in such an environment. However, the report from the ILO appears to stop short of calling for brands to pull out of Myanmar. Instead, it recommends the international community, “increases its flexibility and responsiveness to counter this existential threat to civic space and worker organizing in Myanmar.”

The report claims the targeted persecution of these unions and CSOs, including arbitrary arrests, detentions, acts of violence, raids on homes and offices, seizure of equipment, threatening phone calls, interrogations and surveillance, “have substantially limited their ability to operate.”

It offers evidence of trade unions and CSOs being forced to make major adjustments to their work in response to the heightened safety and security concerns since the military takeover.

“Trade unions and Civil Society Organizations have provided the foundation for much of the progress made on increasing labour rights protection in Myanmar over the last decade. The current state of affairs represents a genuine threat to their existence. The international community must stand with these organizations to help them survive and continue their vital work,” said Panudda Boonpala, ILO deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific.

The report states: “Reporting and due diligence requirements should be simplified or reduced, including lowering the expectations for obtaining and retaining documentary evidence, which may place staff and beneficiaries at risk. Donors should also accept a proven organizational track record instead of adhering to strict legal registration requirements.

“International organizations must dramatically increase the flexibility and responsiveness of their funding to counter this existential threat to civic space and freedom of association in Myanmar. It is time for the international community to practically demonstrate their solidarity with the organizations that are continuing the struggle to uphold workers’ rights in Myanmar.”

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