ILO meets to decide on action against Myanmar


The governing body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) met Thursday to decide whether to take unprecedented action against Myanmar over its use of forced labor.

Unless members decide that Myanmar, also known as Burma, has made sufficient progress to stamp out the use of forced labor, governments and businesses will be asked to review their relations with the southeast Asian country to increase the pressure.

An ILO delegation, which visited Myanmar last month, reported last week that the country had made progress in improving its laws, but it was unclear what is actually being done to stop the use of forced labor. The day after the delegation left the country, Myanmar amended its laws to make forced labor a criminal offense.

“At the end of the day, what the governing body has to decide is whether these measures of Myanmar are concrete and practical and constitute a real beginning in getting rid of forced labor in the country,” said ILO spokesman John Doohan.

Myanmar has long been assailed by the United Nations and Western countries for suppression of democracy and its human rights record — including the use of unpaid civilian labor on infrastructure projects. Its government has said civilians contribute their labor voluntarily to promote development of the nation.

The International Labor conference in June approved unprecedented measures against Myanmar. ILO delegates voted to recommend that ILO members — governments, workers and employers — “review their links with Myanmar and take appropriate measures to ensure (Myanmar) cannot take advantage of such relations to perpetuate or extend the system of forced or compulsory labor.”

But the move, which was opposed by Asian nations, was delayed until the ILO governing body November meeting. Asian nations likely will propose a new resolution at this meeting, recognizing the improvements in Myanmar and proposing another deferment to give Myanmar more time. But workers’ groups, along with the governments of the European Union and the United States, are pressing for action to be taken immediately. A final decision is expected later Thursday or Friday.