Holding Taiwan’s transnational corporations to account

The following article appeared in Taipei Times on December 7, 2023. 

When workers at a garment factory in Yangon, Myanmar, went on strike in February to protest starvation wages, their employer had the army called in.

“[It’s a] classic case of union-busting … Military vehicles and police showed up to threaten them,” says Ray Cheng (鄭中睿), director of Youth Labor Union 95 (青年勞動九 五聯盟), a Taiwan-based labor rights group that exposes abuses by Taiwanese transnational corporations. “Then the company fired all 26 union members, claiming they’d skipped work [during the strike] and violated their contracts. It was outrageous”

The company in question is Taiwan-headquartered Pou Chen (寶成), the world’s largest manufacturer of branded athletic and casual footwear. The company has an ignominious history of rights violations in Southeast Asia. In 1997, reports of physical and sexual abuse at Pou Chen factories in Vietnam surfaced; in 2011, supervisors at a Pou Chen facility in Indonesia were caught assaulting their staff. Pou Chen dismissed the incidents as “isolated cases,” promising to improve training procedures.

The violations in Myanmar suggest little has changed. By establishing facilities in a country where labor rights oversights are practically nonexistent and independent unions have been outlawed following a military coup in 2021, Pou Chen has made little progress when it comes to labor rights.

The corporation is far from anomalous among Taiwanese manufacturers, as Cheng made clear at a recent labor rights conference.

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