News / Asia

Brands, International Unions Press Cambodian Government on Labor Issues

Garment workers present creations during the
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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs