News / Asia

Brands, International Unions Press Cambodian Government on Labor Issues

Garment workers present creations during the "Fashion Show of the Beautiful Clothes, Ugly Reality made by us in Cambodia" in Phnom Penh, May 25, 2014.
Garment workers present creations during the "Fashion Show of the Beautiful Clothes, Ugly Reality made by us in Cambodia" in Phnom Penh, May 25, 2014.
Robert Carmichael
Representatives from some of the world’s largest fashion brands and the leader of one of the world’s biggest union organizations met this week with Cambodian officials and local clothing manufacturers to demand better treatment and improve workplace safety for the country's estimated 600,000 garment workers. 

Garment manufacturing is Cambodia’s main foreign exchange earner, with $5.5 billion in exports last year, mainly to the United States and the European Union.

But while revenues have risen in a decade, real wages have declined.  Last year, workers fed up with having to work ever-longer hours just to get by clocked nearly 900,000 strike days, mostly in an effort to raise the minimum wage.

In December, the government hiked the minimum wage from $80 to $100 a month, but some unions and many workers wanted $160.  As a result, thousands stayed on strike.
 
Cambodian garment workers run as they escape for safety in front of a factory of Yak Jin in Kambol village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.Cambodian garment workers run as they escape for safety in front of a factory of Yak Jin in Kambol village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.
x
Cambodian garment workers run as they escape for safety in front of a factory of Yak Jin in Kambol village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.
Cambodian garment workers run as they escape for safety in front of a factory of Yak Jin in Kambol village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.
In early January, four workers were killed and 23 arrested during the protests.  The killings made international headlines and proved a public relations problem for brands such as H&M, The Gap, Puma and Walmart.

The IndustriALL Global Union is an organization of international unions with 50 million members in 140 countries.  Its general secretary, Jyrki Raina says the $100 minimum wage is the key issue.

“It is not a living wage.  And that is why people work 10-14 hours a day.  It is very important to find a path now towards a living wage that covers the basic needs and makes it possible for people to have a life,” he said.

Raina, who attended this week’s meetings between brands, government, and local manufacturers, says brands delivered three key messages to the government; that they are willing to pay their subcontractors more to ensure workers receive a higher minimum wage, that the government must work faster to set up a mechanism that reviews the minimum wage on a regular basis and in a realistic manner, and that it stops using violence and the courts against workers and unions.

"The brands are very dependent on their image," he said.  "Consumers are asking questions, and it is not good news for sales or reputation if the media reports, as they regularly do, about violations of workers’ rights, slave labor wages as Pope Francis called them, and otherwise long working hours and unsafe and unhealthy work places.  That is one thing, of course.  The second thing is that the brands need to be sure of the stability of the sourcing, so if there is unrest then that of course causes problems because they do not get their products."

The meetings Monday and Tuesday were closed to the media, but a Ministry of Labor spokesman said Monday the government told the brands the courts were only acting against unionists and workers who had broken the law.

Union leader Ath Thorn says the meetings offer a chance to improve the sector’s image and stability, which would benefit workers and brands.  He adds, Cambodia should act fast to benefit from problems afflicting the region.

“In this situation now, Vietnam and Thailand have a lot of problems.  If the government can take the opportunity to be better in Cambodia, maybe we can get more business in Cambodia,” he said.

The government has agreed to meet manufacturers and unions next month to discuss an improved wage-setting mechanism.

Meanwhile, the highly criticized trial of 23 unionists and workers arrested in January ended last week, with the court due to hand down a verdict Friday.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sing from: USA
May 28, 2014 2:36 AM
The main problem is the multi-national companies like Walmart dictate way low prices on the products they are buying. Resulted in low wages being offer to workers. The other side is the factory owners are they socially responsible? Every year multi national companies demanded lower price than year before. What kind of business sense is that. No inflation and material costs increases?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid