News / Economy

ILO to Publicize Failings at Cambodian Garment Factories

Cambodian garment workers sew clothes in a factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 4, 2007.
Cambodian garment workers sew clothes in a factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 4, 2007.
Robert Carmichael
The United Nations’ labor body, the International Labor Organization, said this week that it would revise its program that monitors Cambodia’s garment factories.

Beginning in January, the ILO will publicly release information on factories that fail to comply with the most important elements of the country’s labor laws. The ILO plans to start those inspections next week, but a variety of hurdles might make it difficult for monitors to carry out their duties.
Cambodia’s garment manufacturing industry has grown rapidly over the past decade. Today, it is the country’s largest foreign exchange earner and, with over 400,000 Cambodians working in the industry, the nation’s largest formal employer.
The sector’s rapid growth was largely due to a trade preferences deal that allowed duty-free access to the U.S. market. In exchange, exporting factories submitted to an ILO inspection program called Better Factories Cambodia (BFC), which assessed their compliance with Cambodia’s Labor Law and made public its recommendations.
That was part of a carrot and stick approach; Cambodia got access to US retailers, as long as factories adhered to certain working conditions. Hundreds of foreign factories took advantage of the deal.
After the trade preferences deal expired in 2005, the ILO agreed it would no longer publicize the BFC’s findings, although it did continue to inspect factories.
However, as a study by Stanford Law School found in February, without the financial incentives to comply, factories simply ignored the BFC’s recommendations. Conditions for garment workers worsened, and today they earn less in real terms than they did a decade ago.
Jason Judd, the ILO’s technical specialist on the BFC program, says inspectors at the Cambodian program have noted a worrying trend.
“In the last three years we’ve seen the factories’ compliance with the Labor Law has been declining - it’s getting worse. Working conditions are deteriorating. That’s not true in every factory, but on the whole this is what we’ve seen. And we’re returning to an old practice - something we did in the early years of the project - to create some gentle public pressure on factories to improve working conditions,” said Judd.
Judd says inspectors will focus on basic issues such as ensuring emergency exits are unlocked during working hours and workers are paid at least minimum wage.
BFC, which has a purely monitoring role and which cannot enforce compliance, checks around 450 factories. Beginning next week it says its inspectors will assess factories’ compliance with 21 key issues. Factory owners will be given three months to make the required changes, or face being named.
The news has been welcomed by trade unions, some brands, including Sweden’s H&M, and by workers’ rights groups, such as the Solidarity Center, a non-profit affiliated with the U.S.-based labor movement. Dave Welsh, the country director for the Solidarity Center, thinks making the body’s findings public could help put pressure on violators to make changes.
“It’s a step in the right direction, and the opportunities it affords trade unions and workers and worker activists is that surely it’s sort of a naming and shaming aspect to it, but also it really highlights the urgency and calls publicly on those stakeholders who have the ability to make changes, fundamental changes in the industry - namely the government, namely the brands and namely the factories - to engage in a public and proactive manner. And that’s very, very helpful,” said Welsh.
The ILO’s announcement this week drew a lukewarm response from the government. Sat Samoth, a senior official in the Ministry of Labor, told local media he feared that publicly naming factories might drive away brands and cause job losses.
The government’s reaction aside, it is the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia (GMAC), the industry body representing the more than 400 garment exporting factories, which is most annoyed. Ken Loo, secretary-general of GMAC, says his members were caught by surprise by what he termed the ILO’s high-handed approach.
Ken Loo says GMAC is not opposed to the results of inspections being made public, but is unhappy that the ILO disregarded the industry body and failed to allow it enough time to consult its members.
As a result, GMAC will send letters to its members advising them that they are no longer obliged to let BFC’s inspectors enter their factories.
“Factories are obliged to grant access to BFC monitors when they come for the unannounced audits. What we are doing now is to inform the factories that the association has taken the decision to inform them that they are no longer obliged. Access is granted by the government - by the respective ministries - so we are not refusing access, but we are saying that if they come with the relevant government officials and/or with the official letters indicating specifically that access should be granted, of course we will comply. If they don’t have that, then what we are telling factories is that they are no longer obliged. And they take the decision themselves,” said Loo.
Ken Loo says GMAC will stand by that until it feels its concerns have been taken into account - a position that looks likely to upset the ILO’s planned launch next week.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.