Underage workers of a local popular soft-drink factory, Ve Ve, are holding a strike in Myanmar asking to improve their working conditions and working hours to be reduced. According to the report by the Voice Journal, 200 children, who are under 16 years old and some are as young as 12, were asked to work no less than 12 hrs a day and no off day a week. The existing labor law in Myanmar restricts children under 15 working for more than four hours a day. If employers are fail to follow the rules, they can be fined 500 kyats (50 cents) and a prison term. So, basically, the current law is useless and it does not protect children from being exploited by their employers.
Even if a country lacks laws which could effectively stop business firms from exploiting workers and natural resources, consumers’s ethical choices can be as effective and influential as laws over companies in stressing them to respect human rights, to improve labour conditions, and to abandon excessive environmental exploitation. People can express their concern by means of his or her purchasing behavior; and urge companies to generate socially responsible practices.
Myanmar and Ethical Consumer Movement
Although this Ve Ve children workers strike and other recent labor protests going on in Myanmar gain enormous public support, and there are also increasing public concern and outcries over companies’s socially irresponsible business activities carried out inside the country, an ethical consumer movement has yet to be rooted in Myanmar.
By choosing other products produced by social responsible companies over the products of the companies, like Ve Ve soft drinks factory, which are fail to respect human rights and labor rights, individuals can play a great role in encouraging changes in unhealthy business practices.
Challenges of Being An Ethical Consumer
However, being an ethical consumer towards society and environment is not always easy. There are challenges and arguments about which are ethical, and how can we be ethical. One obvious barrier of being responsible in consuming is product prices; for the products ethically and responsibly produced, it often involves paying high prices. For example, Chinese products; Chinese companies are notorious for their exploiting conducts, but they sell goods in a much lower price which allures many consumers to forget their conscience and dive in for cheaper goods. Our purchasing behavior based on product prices rather than our conscious choice will encourage companies to carry out more destruction over our forests, and other natural resources, and more exploitation our labor forces. In terms of social and environmental costs, it will eventually make us pay even more in the long term. We have seen that people’s general health and natural environment even at the societies strictly upheld by the rule of law like the United States have been suffered by greedy corporate firm’s irresponsible practices and individual’s feckless purchasing behavior.
With the labor laws and enforcement alone – without public’s effort to try to buy conscientiously, we could not a build sustainable, healthy, and human-nature balancing society. We have to promote ethical consumerism movement together with other causes calling for improvement in labor, human, and animal rights – to reach a conclusive and lasting solution in the country.