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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend 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.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More