Label STEP is working in collaboration with Turquoise Mountain to support the growth of the artisan textile sector in Myanmar. Through a staged program involving research, consultations and trials, STEP and Turquoise Mountain will develop a country- and industry-specific set of fair trade and environmental standards to help improve the working conditions of weavers and bolster the economic growth of this sector within an international market.
Bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand, Myanmar is an incredibly diverse country with over 135 officially recognized ethnic groups – each with their own culture, language and, often, textile traditions. These textiles have allowed the growth of a large artisanal textile sector, which currently provides a source of income to approximately 15 million individuals of Myanmar’s overall population of 50 million. However, even though the sector is substantial in size, it has not been able to offer corresponding economic benefits for the weavers and artisans. This dissonance is largely due to its seclusion from international markets, which occurred as a consequence of the political isolation and sanctions the country faced during the military rule from 1962 to 2011. While many of the country’s unique textile traditions are still alive, its producers have been cut off from international markets, rendering them unfamiliar with its standards and productions management expectations.
Developing Myanmar-specific Fair Trade Standards
Early this year, Label STEP joined the efforts of International NGO Turquoise Mountain, who, since 2016, have been working with female weavers from Chin State, Mandalay, Kachin State and Northern Rakhine to support their learning of new skills toward producing textiles rooted in heritage but fit for today’s international markets. STEP is working alongside Turquoise Mountain to confront the sector’s lack of existing social or environmental standards and fair trade certifications by developing a set of practicable standards and technical training strategies that are specific to the realities of the handmade textile industry in Myanmar. These standards will be developed based on industry research and consultations with local weavers, workers and producers, and they will cover everything from wages, child labour and discrimination to working conditions and environmental sustainability. Following the phases of research and development, sample audits will be conducted to ensure the efficacy and viability of the proposed standards before they are ultimately launched and international outreach can begin.
Supporting Artisans Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow
As always, STEP’s primary objective is to improve the working and living conditions for weavers and workers. These ongoing efforts and more are aimed at fostering the growth of a more resilient, skilled and motivated artisan base to help sustain this ancient artisanal craft and support its transition into the future. This project is novel as it’s not only STEP’s first project in Myanmar, it also marks one of our first projects working with handmade textiles that are not carpet specific. Recently, STEP also joined the Palpali Dhaka Association in its efforts to fortify and standardize the Palpali Dhaka industry in Nepal. Models such as these demonstrate how, within all sectors of handmade production, the fair and equitable treatment of weavers and workers benefits the industry as a whole and establish a more resilient, competitive, and inclusive future for all.