How an EU investment deal affects women in Myanmar | ActionAid UK

Ruth Kelly

Programme Policy Manager

You may have heard about the deal the EU is negotiating with the US, known as TTIP (the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). It's likely that this deal will allow powerful companies to sue EU governments for protecting workers rights. 

Actionaid Fellow Sukyi Khaing, 24, helps women in Soe Taw village stand up for their rights, in Myanmar's Dry Zone region.
Actionaid Fellow Sukyi Khaing, 24, helps women in Soe Taw village stand up for their rights, in Myanmar's Dry Zone region.

People in the UK are worried that the threat of law suits will drive down food standards and make it harder to prevent privatisation. There is growing anger about how unfair this is – lots of people are trying to put a stop to it.

The EU is also negotiating a very similar deal with Myanmar.  So we must make sure that the women we work with will be protected when the new rules are written.

Women should be paid enough to live on

At ActionAid, we’re training women in Myanmar in making crafts. Some of these women will join cooperatives and sell their crafts in Myanmar and overseas. Others may go on to get a job in a factory.
 
Women making crafts at home are paid very little for their efforts. Wages in factories are also pretty low. Last month, at great personal risk, women working in three of Myanmar’s factories held a demonstration asking for higher wages.
 
As Myanmar opens up to the world, the government needs to change the law to protect workers’ rights and local businesses.

A woman from Kan Ma Village in Myanmar, being trained in the production of quality handcrafts.

Investors flock to Myanmar

We’ve been working in Myanmar since 1999. In the time we’ve been there, the country has changed dramatically. Foreign direct investment jumped from only $300 million in 2010 to a massive $4 billion in 2014.

But the government of Myanmar hasn’t had time to put the right laws and policies in place to make sure this investment benefits its own citizens.
 
Some investors are trying to improve conditions for workers in their factories and for the local businesses they work with. Unfortunately, such investors are few and far between.

Most investors go to Myanmar because they can pay workers low wages. If the minimum wage goes up, investor profits go down. If the deal with the EU goes through, investors will be able to sue for compensation for the increased cost of wages.

Investors are suing governments for billions

More and more investors are suing governments for changing the law, and winning billions in compensation. This is not OK. The UN is working with governments and academics to change the rules.

We’re working to make sure that these new rules allow governments to protect workers’ rights and local businesses.

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Greg Funnell/ActionAid