Saturday, May 27, 2017
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Businesses should ask themselves how they affect children: MCRB

The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) stresses that the voices of children need to be heard when firms and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) consultants assess social impacts of projects.

Issues concerning child labour rights are not going to be solved overnight because they are deeply interwoven with poverty, according to MCRB director. Naing Wynn Tun / The Myanmar TimesIssues concerning child labour rights are not going to be solved overnight because they are deeply interwoven with poverty, according to MCRB director. Naing Wynn Tun / The Myanmar Times

The MCRB has launched a briefing paper, “Children Rights and Business in Myanmar”, which aims to provide guidance to foreign and Myanmar businesses on what children’s rights mean in the context of doing business in Myanmar.

During the press conference on May 11, Vicky Bowman, MCRB director, said that regarding Myanmar’s new EIA process – which many large-scale projects need to undertake – requires assessment of social impacts. Most of the companies here, including EIA consultants, do not understand what social impacts are in relation to children.

“Looking at social impacts means looking at impacts on children’s rights, women’s rights and rights to education and rights to health and so on.

“The issues in this country, particularly child labour rights, are not going to be solved overnight because they are much related to poverty,” the director explained.

“When I said ‘children’, I am talking about children under 18 [years old]. But there is a distinction between ages 14-16 and 16-18... And for those who are under 14, you are conducting illegal child labour in whatever circumstances.

“With international standards, no child under 18 should be employed in dangerous work. The Myanmar government has ratified ILO Convention No 182 concerning children in dangerous work but they have not yet defined what that list of work is.

“Normally these are things such as the mining industry and fishing,” she said.

ILO Convention No 182 refers to the “Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour”. Myanmar ratified the convention in 2013 December. For hazardous work, the minimum age at which children can start work is 18, and 16 under strict conditions.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), hazardous work is any work which is likely to jeopardise “children’s physical, mental or moral heath, safety or morals should not be done by anyone under the age of 18.”

Another issue is that children between 14 and 15 are only allowed legally to work four hours a day. That requirement is unrealistic, Ms Bowman noted.

“Because most children at age 14 who are seeking jobs want to work full days because they want full wages, and because there are no other opportunities for children who are out of school. If the employer says you can work full-time … the child becomes an illegal child labourer,” she said, adding that these substances in the law intend to protect the children but the result deviates from the intention.

A boy aged 13, counts the sticks to mark the number of baskets he has carried as he sits on gravel pile during a break time of his work at the banks of the Yangon river. Child labour occurs largely in the rural and informal economy, according to the ILO. Photo - EPAA boy aged 13, counts the sticks to mark the number of baskets he has carried as he sits on gravel pile during a break time of his work at the banks of the Yangon river. Child labour occurs largely in the rural and informal economy, according to the ILO. Photo - EPA

Ms Bowman also said that market pressure is a good approach, citing the example of Telenor. The telecommunications service provider only hires subcontractors who do not employ under-18 workers. They also conduct spot checks and terminate contracts if they find out that subcontractors are using underage workers.

For local businesses to follow Telenor’s example, there has to be a market incentive for them to stick with international standards, according to the MCRB.

“Other businesses, to get investments from the World Bank or foreign investors, have an incentive to increase their standards. None of this is perfect but that is the market incentive which makes most of them change, particularly when government enforcement of the [labour] law is still weak,” she said.

The director further added in the press release, “In our experience, businesses in Myanmar rarely ask themselves what impacts they have on children, even though 24 percent of the Myanmar population is under 18. We see occasional public discussions of illegal child labour, particularly in garment factories; although it is just as prevalent in teashops, orchards, artisanal mines and several other areas.”

“Companies should take a look at their business and ask themselves: is this sugary snack promoting obesity and undermining the child’s right to health? Can my factory support mothers in caring for their children with a workplace nursery? Do the visits my tourism company offers to monastic schools interfere with the children’s right to privacy or even put them at risk of sexual abuse?”

Child labour issues has put Myanmar in the international spotlight earlier this year, when an article “How high street clothes were made by children in Myanmar for 13p an hour” in the Guardian published on February 5 wrote that children as young as 14 have been employed to manufacture clothes for some popular brands, according to a report authored by the Netherlands-based Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the Observer.

“We thought that brands were getting the message on child labour but this investigation shows the risks involved in constantly trying to cut labour costs...

“The widespread use of children in Myanmar to manufacture clothes for western brands is alarming and depressing and we urge all companies to take responsibility and to ensure that children are getting the education they need and deserve,” the author of the article Gethin Chamberlain quoted researcher Pauline Overeem as saying.

In a press statement, the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association (MGMA) accused the article as “thinly-veiled accusations of illegal activity”. Members of the MGMA have also branded the allegations as “unacceptable” and “not accurate”.

The MCRB briefing paper will be sent to Parliament, the Myanmar Human Rights Commission and will be shared with the business community in the country.