Burma/Myanmar at the ILO Governing Body,

24 March, 2005



The ILO Governing Body today reactivated the “measures” contained in the International Labour Conference (ILC) resolution of June 2000.


In fact, as the Conclusions of today’s meeting state, the measures have never ceased to be in force. The “reactivation” consisted in affirming that no adequate moves have been taken by the Burmese military regime (the “Government” of Myanmar) to reduce forced labour in Burma/Myanmar, and that there is therefore no reason not to apply the “review of relations” requested in the 2000 resolution.


The ILO press release (Document 1, below) helps to clarify the Conclusions, Document 2, and the ILC 2000 resolution (Document 3) sets out the “measures”.  Document 4 consists of links to the ILO reports submitted to the March 2005 session of the Governing Body, its Conclusions, and the ILO section of the Online Burma/Myanmar Library.



Document 1


ILO Press Release, 24 March 2005


Thursday 24 March 2005 (ILO/05/18)


GENEVA (ILO News) - The Governing Body of the International Labour Office (ILO) concluded its 292nd session here today following wide-ranging discussions by tripartite delegates on issues ranging from respect of basic labour rights in Myanmar, Nepal, Zimbabwe and other countries to strategies for new partnerships to promote a fair globalization.




Regarding the forced labour situation in Myanmar, the Governing Body discussed reports prepared by the ILO liaison officer a.i in Yangon a very High-Level Team (vHLT) appointed by the Director-General of the ILO which visited Myanmar 21-23 February. The mission comprised Sir Ninian Stephen, former Governor General of Australia, Ms. Ruth Dreifuss, former President of the Swiss Confederation and Mr. Eui-yong Chung, former Chairman of the Governing Body of the ILO and member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea..


The consensus conclusions adopted at the end of the discussions noted that many delegates shared a sense of "condemnation over the failure of the highest-level authorities of Myanmar to take advantage of the unique opportunity that the visit of the vHLT represented to resume a credible dialogue on the issues of concern, and also the feelings of grave concern over the general situation that this reveals." While noting that some developments in Myanmar "seem to a number of us to go in the right direction, in particular the prosecutions and punishment of authorities responsible for having recourse to forced labour" they noted that "the overall assessment falls far short of our expectations".


Although the Government of Myanmar stated that the political will to address forced labour existed, the Governing Body expressed grave doubts about the credibility of these statements due to the attitude adopted by the authorities towards the vHLT and recent comments by Government officials reported in the press.


The Governing Body noted that in the circumstances and at this stage it was widely felt that the "wait-and-see" attitude which has prevailed since 2001 can no longer continue. It unanimously decided to transmit its consensus conclusions to the Governments, Employers and Workers representatives, as well as other international organizations, with a view to them taking the appropriate action in the framework of the 2000 resolution. (The resolution adopted in 2000 under Article 33 of the ILO Constitution calls on ILO constituents and other agencies to review their relations with Myanmar and take action that they may consider appropriate.)


However, the Governing Body insisted that the door was still open for the positive developments that had been requested, and that any such developments should be objectively taken into account as part of any review of relations with Myanmar. A document will be presented to the Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference in June reflecting any developments.




Document 2


Conclusions of the ILO Governing Body following the debate, 24 March 2005  on the observance by the Government of Myanmar of the Forced Labour Convention 1930 (No. 29)







The easiest and most pleasant part of my task is to convey on our joint behalf our sincere gratitude to the members of the very High-Level Team (vHLT) for having accepted a very difficult assignment and for their dedication in discharging it scrupulously both in letter and spirit. Now comes a much more painful and difficult task, and I am indebted to my colleagues the Officers for having given me their support and advice.


In drawing the conclusions of the present debate it is important to recall the conclusions reached by the Governing Body at its previous session, which set the parameters for our present consideration of the matter. Following recent leadership changes, the main preoccupation of the Governing Body in establishing the vHLT was to have an objective basis to evaluate the attitude and the real will of the authorities at the highest level, and their determination to continue their effective cooperation on the outstanding issues; this evaluation would then enable the Governing Body to draw the appropriate consequences in full knowledge of the facts, including as regards action under article 33.


In that framework, after hearing the message from the Ambassador, Mr. Nyunt Maung Shein, we have had a broad debate.


The most largely shared sentiment was one of condemnation over the failure of the highest authorities to take advantage of the unique opportunity that the visit of the vHLT represented to resume a credible dialogue on the issues of concern, and also the feelings of grave concern over the general situation that this reveals.


Indeed, the Prime Minister’s indications to the Members of the vHLT as well as the comments of the Ambassador allege that the that the necessary political will exists. However, the attitude towards the vHLT, along with the press conference held in Yangon on 15 March and even some of the remarks made this morning by the Ambassador of Myanmar, casts into grave doubt the credibility of this message and the usefulness of the ILO approach.


Apart from the assurances and indications, there are the facts. Some of them seem to a number of us to go in the right direction, in particular the prosecutions and punishment of authorities responsible for having recourse to forced labour and the establishment of a focal point in the army on the initiative of the Vice-Senior General.


But in the circumstances the overall assessment falls far short of our expectations. And this is the reason why, according to the Workers’ proposal, joined by certain governments, the Governing Body has no other choice but to ask the Office to take a certain number of formal steps to strengthen the measures under the resolution of June 2000, but also at the same time to strengthen the Liaison Office.


Other Government members and the Employers’, while sharing the same sense of condemnation of the actions of the authorities, were in view of the closeness of the International Labour Conference starting 31 May inclined to test, for the last time, the true will of the authorities to cooperate with the ILO, before resuming the examination of these measures and taking a decision on them. Other governments limited themselves to calling for an urgent restarting of an effective and meaningful dialogue, without reference to specific measures.


In the treatment of this particularly difficult case, the solidarity of all the groups has always given strength to the position of the ILO. It is the view of my colleagues and myself that this strength should be maintained. Three considerations may help us.


-     First, the question is not strictly speaking for us to adopt new measures under article 33. These measures have already been taken under the resolution adopted by the Conference in 2000, which is binding on the Governing Body and the other organs of the ILO as long as it has not been modified. These measures clearly remain in force with regard to all constituents and others to whom the resolution is addressed.


-     The next question is whether it is time for Members to resume their consideration of the action which they have been and still are called upon to take under the resolution of June 2000. This question arises because most of them have suspended their action since the beginning of 2001 as a result of the progress which seemed to be under way at the time, and which resulted in certain concrete developments in particular through the ILO presence. At this stage, and on the basis of the information at our disposal, the growing feeling is that the “wait-and-see” attitude that prevailed among Members, following the initiation of meaningful dialogue since 2001, appears to have lost its raison d’être and cannot continue.


-     A third consideration is that under the resolution the ILO cannot prejudge the action which each individual Member may find it appropriate to take as a result of their review; the only thing which is expected from all of them is to report at suitable intervals to explain what they have done and why.


At the same time it is clear that the ILO is not closing the door to the resumption of a positive dialogue with the Myanmar authorities in line with the views wisely expressed by the vHLT and a large number of those who took the floor during the debate; it is clear in particular that the existence of such dialogue and the concrete results it could produce should be taken objectively into account by Members when deciding the outcome of their review. The extent to which progress will be achieved with regard to the strengthening of the ILO presence as well as the other items covered by the vHLT’s aide-mémoire, including the immediate release of Shwe Mahn, should be a concrete test in this regard.


In the light of these considerations, the conclusions that myself and my colleagues think the Governing Body could unanimously agree on taking is to transmit to all those to whom the 2000 resolution was addressed—including relevant agencies—the results of our deliberations reflected in the present conclusions, with a view to them taking the appropriate action resulting from the above considerations.


The Officers of the Governing Body are mandated to closely follow any developments. These developments will be the subject of a document before the Committee on the Application of Standards of International Labour Conference in June.




Document 3


Resolution adopted by the

International Labour Conference

in June 2000

The International Labour Conference,

Meeting at its 88th Session in Geneva from 30 May to 15 June 2000,

Considering the proposals by the Governing Body which are before it, under the eighth item of its agenda (Provisional Record No. 4), with a view to the adoption, under article 33 of the ILO Constitution, of action to secure compliance with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry established to examine the observance by Myanmar of its obligations in respect of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29),

Having taken note of the additional information contained in the report of the ILO technical cooperation mission sent to Yangon from 23 to 27 May 2000 (Provisional Record No. 8) and, in particular, of the letter dated 27 May 2000 from the Minister of Labour to the Director-General, which resulted from the mission,

Considering that, while this letter contains aspects which seem to reflect a welcome intention on the part of the Myanmar authorities to take measures to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, the factual situation on which the recommendations of the Governing Body were based has nevertheless remained unchanged to date,

Believing that the Conference cannot, without failing in its responsibilities to the workers subjected to various forms of forced or compulsory labour, abstain from the immediate application of the measures recommended by the Governing Body unless the Myanmar authorities promptly take concrete action to adopt the necessary framework for implementing the Commission of Inquiry's recommendations, thereby ensuring that the situation of the said workers will be remedied more expeditiously and under more satisfactory conditions for all concerned;

1.      Approves in principle, subject to the conditions stated in paragraph 2 below, the actions recommended by the Governing Body, namely:

(a)     to decide that the question of the implementation of the Commission of Inquiry's recommendations and of the application of Convention No. 29 by Myanmar should be discussed at future sessions of the International Labour Conference, at a sitting of the Committee on the Application of Standards specially set aside for the purpose, so long as this Member has not been shown to have fulfilled its obligations;

(b)     to recommend to the Organization's constituents as a whole – governments, employers and workers – that they: (i) review, in the light of the conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry, the relations that they may have with the member State concerned and take appropriate measures to ensure that the said Member cannot take advantage of such relations to perpetuate or extend the system of forced or compulsory labour referred to by the Commission of Inquiry, and to contribute as far as possible to the implementation of its recommendations; and (ii) report back in due course and at appropriate intervals to the Governing Body;

(c)     as regards international organizations, to invite the Director-General: (i) to inform the international organizations referred to in article 12, paragraph 1, of the Constitution of the Member's failure to comply; (ii) to call on the relevant bodies of these organizations to reconsider, within their terms of reference and in the light of the conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry, any cooperation they may be engaged in with the Member concerned and, if appropriate, to cease as soon as possible any activity that could have the effect of directly or indirectly abetting the practice of forced or compulsory labour;

(d)     regarding the United Nations specifically, to invite the Director-General to request the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to place an item on the agenda of its July 2001 session concerning the failure of Myanmar to implement the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission of Inquiry and seeking the adoption of recommendations directed by ECOSOC or by the General Assembly, or by both, to governments and to other specialized agencies and including requests similar to those proposed in paragraphs (b) and (c) above;

(e)     to invite the Director-General to submit to the Governing Body, in the appropriate manner and at suitable intervals, a periodic report on the outcome of the measures set out in paragraphs (c) and (d) above, and to inform the international organizations concerned of any developments in the implementation by Myanmar of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry;

2.      Decides that those measures will take effect on 30 November 2000 unless, before that date, the Governing Body is satisfied that the intentions expressed by the Minister of Labour of Myanmar in his letter dated 27 May have been translated into a framework of legislative, executive and administrative measures that are sufficiently concrete and detailed to demonstrate that the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry have been fulfilled and therefore render the implementation of one or more of these measures inappropriate;

3.      Authorizes the Director-General to respond positively to all requests by Myanmar that are made with the sole purpose of establishing, before the above deadline, the framework mentioned in the conclusions of the ILO technical cooperation mission (points (i), (ii) and (iii), page 8/11 of Provisional Record No. 8), supported by a sustained ILO presence on the spot if the Governing Body confirms that the conditions are met for such presence to be truly useful and effective.



Document 4


ILO Governing Body March 2005

Links to documents

Further action taken pursuant to the resolution of the International Labour Conference regarding forced labour in Myanmar



Report of the Liaison Officer ad interim



Report of the Liaison Officer ad interim (Addendum)



Report of the very High Level Team



GB March 2005 (292nd session) Myanmar debate - Conclusions



The Burmese Ambassador's statement to the ILO GB on the Mission site


URL of the ILO section of the Online Burma/Myanmar Library