[Staying in Myanmar]
I first went to Myanmar in 2019. Myanmar has harsh sunlight during the day because of the subtropical climate. It is a country where only a hatter can not let go of his hat. At that time, Myanmar was not yet under military rule as it is today. The people are predominantly Buddhist and their religious beliefs are passionate. According to some, they are so enthusiastic that as much as 10% of their income goes to offerings. People are calm, hard working and reliable. It is a very peaceful country. If we could open a new factory here
I am sure that we will be able to produce a good product.
Source: Shwedagon Pagoda, photo is provided by the author.
We started looking for land and looked around at several potential sites. Foreign nationals are not allowed to sign land lease contracts in Myanmar, therefore they have to sign a contract under the name of a Myanmar national whom they can trust.
If they are betrayed, everything will be for nothing. Understanding this is a risk, we are looking for potential factory sites.
On January 15, 2020, the first cases of new coronavirus infection are confirmed in Japan. Restrictions on travel and other activities are to be imposed, and travel to Myanmar will not be possible.
On February 1, 2021, a military coup d'etat occurs in Myanmar. With the military government in power, Suu Kyi is detained and the conflict with the democratic faction begins.
As the democratic faction destroys power facilities, the situation with electric power deteriorates. With economic sanctions imposed by various countries, Myanmar falls into a shortage of foreign currency. Due to the shortage of foreign currency, import permits for materials are not granted, and imports cannot be freely carried out. While thinking that some factories may withdraw from Myanmar, I start searching for existing properties.
One day, we receive information from a person in the Mingaladon Industrial Park that there is one Japanese sewing factory that is thinking of selling. The owner of the company is elderly, has health concerns, and is considering selling the company. I will exchange information with him remotely, as it is impossible for me to go to Myanmar. It is possible though to go to Myanmar by obtaining a VISA.
Finally, the contract was finalized and the factory became our group factory on December 1, 2022. All the staff at the factory took over the production. At that time, Myanmar faced a rapid rise in prices that was unable to keep up with salaries, even if salaries were increased.
One day during the lunch break In Myanmar, when we brought our lunch and were eating it together in the cafeteria, several staff members were sleeping under the tables at the factory. I asked them,:” Have you already eaten everything or are you not eating?”, but it looked so as if they hadn’t brought lunch boxes at all. There were several staff members who had no food to eat. So, I decided to distribute 12 kilograms of rice and a bottle of oil to everyone. For breakfast, we had a local dish of catfish called mohinga. Everyone was overjoyed.
Source: Mohinga Breakfast for 230
Source: Staff eating breakfast
There are many thefts and crimes that were unthinkable of when I was there before Corona. The security situation must be deteriorating rapidly. Economic sanctions by various countries are of course necessary. However, there are citizens who have nothing to do with the situation in the country. How to improve their living conditions? It is hard to imagine that people in Japan struggle to buy food.
European countries and the U.S. stopped importing goods made in Myanmar. Shouldn't we look more at the facts on the ground? The European Chamber of Commerce has stated in writing the following. It states that the Myanmar sewing industry has no direct connection to the military. It also states that the citizens' livelihoods are maintained by sending work to Myanmar. I have to keep and protect just the people who work in this factory, but I want to help more Myanmar citizens. There are now different opinions regarding this issue, but I see people who are starving.
We can’t turn a blind eye to this fact. I pray the day people return to normal living comes sooner.
Source: Myanmar European Chamber of Commerce and Industry