Shining a light on the place of CSR in Myanmar

A training session on CSR and the work of the ILO offers a clearer perspective for business leaders

Article | 24 February 2020

Myanmar (ILO News) - U Zaw Naing was sceptical of the relevance of International Labour Standards for Myanmar.

“We thought that international standards are so high that developing countries could not follow them,” he says, “the way they can be used as a tool for encouragement was not clear to me”.

U Saw Naing
U Zaw Naing, Vice-Chair of North Dagon Industrial Zone Management near Yangon and Secretary of the newly formed Myanmar Industrial Zones and Business Association (MIBA) is discussing training by the International Labour Organization (ILO), through the Responsible Supply Chains in Asia programme, a collaboration with the OECD and the European Union on Corporate Social Responsibility for SME’s in the zone.

His group, the MIBA, is at the forefront of Myanmar’s drive to attract foreign investment. Increasingly, key metrics for investors include a country’s adherence to codes of responsible business conduct.  As such, for Myanmar’s development, the training is timely and U Zaw Naing is a convert. “This absolutely changes our business people’s opinions towards the ILO, its conventions and other international labour related frameworks.” A report on the training was subsequently scheduled to be delivered to high-level meetings attended by the Minister of Labour and senior officers of the Labour and Commerce Ministries.

The seminar, which was also supported by the Myanmar Women's Entrepreneur Association (MWEA), introduced business owners to the ILO’s unique tripartite structure (workers organisations, employer organisations and governments are all equally represented), and took a deeper dive into due diligence on issues such as OSH, wages and benefits, working hours, contracts discrimination and Freedom of Association.

Daw Sandar Myint
Owner of Aung Myo Nwel Iron Wrought Work, Daw Sandar Myint found the training instructive. “I have learnt a lot about working hours and overtime,” she says, “I do not like forced labour at the workplace,” she adds.

U San Yu, service operations manager with Auto Life Car Service also learned a new perspective on the potential positive impact of CSR. “What I learnt (about CSR) before was that it was an activity that is external and environmental. That is what we have seen and never think of the connection between labour and society. We only know how to motivate them (workers) at work through providing benefit, that is all. But after this seminar, I have learnt how we can improve our working relations and build benefits for both sides (employers and workers). Now I have seen CSR is a good opportunity for both .”

It’s a point emphasised by the government. On a recent video posted to mark the launch of the MIBA, U Tin Hlaing, Secretary-General of the MIBA Central organising committee emphasised the need for businesses to serve more than just the bottom line: “Our Association is working with Ministry of Labour to ensure that employers and employees have a good relationship, we are doing our best to fulfil the needs of both, and improve the living standards of workers as well.”