We scrambled down from our Hiluxes into the toasty parking lot. After spending an hour and a half driving through the backroads of the light industrial sprawl that is Northeast Yangon, at 11:07am we were finally got to see the acres of warehouse that are the Lucky Bag and Swallow Factory. The students set about their quest to find how this plastic bag factory differed from the garment factory we had visited two weeks before.
Since our arrival, the smell of melted plastic hung in the air. The aid-conditioned room in which we met our guide was a welcome relief. She shared with us about some of the company’s history as well as their recent expansion into the export market before taking us through the various galleries. We found tacks of polyurethane pellets in the storeroom and the loud whirring of paint machines in the room printing labels. As we moved onto the floor where the bags were cut and packed, the students asked myriad questions about how the workers did their jobs, what kind of shifts they worked, and where they stayed at night.
After lunch, the research teams began to spread out to beginning speaking with the workers and supervisors on the floor. On the way they turned over their research questions with their teachers and continued to wrangle with them as they got new information to accommodate new findings and stay with the interests of different team members. One group focused on the bonds between the workers and there machines and another on labor-superior relations. Still other groups examined the safety measures the factory took for workers in different departments.
After a sweaty afternoon out on the factory floor, students walked away with still more questions about how this factory fits into the greater employment ecosystem and how to go about making such products in more sustainable ways. After two back to back factory visits, we won’t be heading back out to the industrial district any time soon, but perhaps the students will find out their answers in unsuspecting places.