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

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7718
JPY
USD
107.32
GBP
USD
0.6125
CAD
USD
1.0974
INR
USD
60.919

Rates may not be current.