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January 08, 2014

Major Brands Concerned About Cambodia Violence

by VOA News

Major labels that have clothing manufactured in Cambodian factories have written an open letter expressing concern for the recent shootings of workers demonstrating for higher wages.

Adidas, Gap, H&M, Levi's and Puma were among those that signed the January 7 letter to the Phnom Penh government, manufacturers and union leaders.  The seven companies behind the letter said they account for 70 percent of garment orders from Cambodia.

“We strongly oppose all forms of violence,” the companies wrote in response to a shooting last week which killed five people and injured another 40.  “It is with great concern that we have observed both widespread civil unrest and the government’s use of deadly force.”

Workers have said they will continue their strike to demand a doubling of their minimum monthly pay to $160, which has been rejected by factory owners.

Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said the letter was a “credible” form of pressure on the government and unions to negotiate for a pay raise for workers.  He also suggested that retailers sell their brands for higher prices so that factories can afford to pay more to workers.

“I think that this statement has a huge impact," Thun said. "If buyers express their disappointment and regret on the use of armed forces to kill or commit violence against workers, and urge the government to go back immediately to the negotiation table to peacefully solve this issue, it will be a strong pressure because the government and suppliers must act on this."

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said Wednesday factories would consider complying with a wage increase if the government officially institutes one.

“The important thing is that we wait for the government.  If the government issues a new decision to say how much they want the minimum wage to go up to, manufacturers must follow because we abide by the law," said Loo.

On Tuesday, he said factories will move out of the country if strikes continue.

Meanwhile, human rights workers are calling for the release of 23 people detained in last week’s crackdown. Am Sam Arth, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said lawyers from the group are preparing a request to the court for the release of the detainees on bail.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.