Bottom of ASEAN: Advocacy on Impact of Rushed Investment in “Last Frontier” countries–Burma/ Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos on Labour and Migration
Beginning in 2012, MMN’s Bottom of ASEAN project investigated the situation of workers in Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, and Lao PDR, as ‘last frontier economies’ in the region. Poor labour standards and extremely low wages cause many workers from these developing economies to migrate to neighbouring countries. Once they migrate, they frequently suffer further exploitation and discrimination which is often justified by policy-makers and the business sectors as “better than the situation in the countries of origin”. As a result, workers have no way out to escape exploitation at the bottom of the supply chain, whether at home or in destination countries. Accordingly, MMN launched the Bottom of ASEAN project with the support of Open Society Institute, and partial support of CCFD-Terre Solidaire. The project aimed to advocate for improved labour protection and fairer wages for all workers at the ‘bottom of ASEAN’, whether they are migrant workers who have moved internally within their country or are working in other countries in the region.
With the rapidly changing political climate in mind following reforms in Burma/Myanmar in 2011, the project looked to build the capacity of migrant advocates to monitor and analyse issues of exploitation in supply chains and to promote workers’ rights in this context. The target for this capacity building not only included advocates from Thailand and Burma/Myanmar, but also those from other Mekong countries, such as Cambodia and Lao PDR, who were likely to experience the impact of changes in investment trends in the region. During the project period, MMN facilitated regular information exchanges between migrant advocates and advocates working on supply chains and/or corporate social responsibility in these countries. The project also aimed to invest time and effort in building a foundation for meaningful participation and engagement at the ASEAN meetings held in Burma/Myanmar in 2014. Ultimately, MMN hoped to contribute through this project towards ensuring that the people of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) would have access to better standards of labour protection and would be able to enjoy an improved quality of life, as a result of the economic growth that was expected inside Burma/Myanmar at that time.
On 22 March 2014, MMN held a workshop entitled The Bottom of ASEAN, during the 11th ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) held in Yangon, Burma/Myanmar. The workshop was co-hosted by: Legal Support for Children and Women, Cambodia; Foundation for Education and Development, Thailand; Generation 88, Myanmar; Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development; and Workers Hub for Change, Malaysia. Over 100 participants from 15 countries, including 50 workers from industrial zones in Burma/Myanmar, and labour activists from Cambodia who had been active in the recent garment worker strikes in Phnom Penh attended the workshop. This workshop offered an excellent opportunity for Burmese workers and Cambodian workers to exchange their experiences and strategies to address common challenges. To learn more, please read the website report of the workshop.
On 19 March 2014, MMN held a project consultation meeting on the Bottom of ASEAN project with partners and participants from Cambodian labour unions and Burmese civil society organisations (CSOs). This meeting was an opportunity for workers, union leaders, and civil society representatives to discuss the similar issues faced by workers in Cambodia and Burma/Myanmar, and the strategies that can be developed to address them. The main objectives of the consultation meeting were to: 1) jointly analyse issues related to exploitation in global supply chains and the possible impact on labour and migration of rushed investment in countries with limited labour protection mechanisms, including Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, and Lao PDR; 2) develop an initial set of recommendations to mitigate negative impacts and bring positive change as a result of the latest inward investment trends in the Mekong countries; and 3) develop the capacity of migrant and labour advocates from Mekong countries to monitor and analyse the issues of exploitation in the supply chain and to promote workers’ rights. To learn more, please read the website report of the meeting.
In the lead up to the ACSC/APF 2014 in Burma/Myanmar, MMN regularly attended monthly preparatory meetings, hosted by Myanmar People Forum (MPF) in Yangon. The MPF is a Yangon-based local organisation that initiated the organising of ACSC/APF 2014 in Myanmar with the participation of civil society organisations. By attending these meetings, MMN was able to network with various local organisations and remain informed about the preparatory process of the ACSC/APF. On 13 and 14 June 2013, the MPF, with the assistance of various local organisations, organised the first ACSC/APF 2014 Local Consultation Meeting. MMN participated as an observer and contributed to the drafting process of the structure of various ACSC/APF 2014 organising committees. To learn more, please read the website report of the preparatory meeting.
In 2014, MMN published the discussion paper Bottom of ASEAN: Impact of Rushed Investment in “Last Frontier” Countries-Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos on Labour and Migration. The document provides an analysis of the impact of rushed investment in “Last Frontier” countries-Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, and Lao PDR on labour and migration. The paper points out that poor labour standards and extremely low wages cause many workers from these developing economies to migrate to neighbouring countries. Once they migrate, they frequently suffer further exploitation and discrimination which is often justified by policy-makers and the business sectors as “better than the situation in the countries of origin”. As a result, workers have no way out to escape exploitation at the bottom of the supply chain, whether at home or in destination countries. It outlines recommendations to governments and relevant stakeholders and advocates for improved labour protection and fairer wages for all workers at the ‘bottom of ASEAN’, whether they are migrant workers who have moved internally within their country or are working in other countries in the region.
Between January and October 2013, MMN networked with CSOs in Burma/Myanmar, including: The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society; Thabyay Education Foundation; National YMCAs Myanmar; Lawyers’ Network Myanmar; Women Organisations Network; Women Galaxy; Farmers Union; Action Labour Rights; Labour Rights Defenders and Promoters; Rural Development Network; and Migrant Workers Rights Network. As a part of its advocacy strategy, MMN also maintained regular contact with officials from the Myanmar Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security and monitored the updates on policies and laws on labour and migration issues in Myanmar.
On 22 October 2013, MMN organised a meeting with CSOs in Burma/Myanmar at MiCasa Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar. It was attended by 17 representatives from 10 CSOs in Myanmar. The objectives of the meeting were to: introduce MMN and its activities; exchange information, ideas and experiences about labour and migration; and identify key issues for the network’s activities in Myanmar. To learn more about the meeting, please click here.
As a part of the APF programme in 2012 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, MMN organised a thematic workshop entitled The Bottom of ASEAN on 30 March 2012. The workshop was attended by around 40-50 participants. The workshop was convened to examine the impact of the ASEAN Economic Integration of 2015 on the countries of the GMS. To learn more, please click here.