Labour rights groups and trade unions across the world are expressing outrage at the brutal violence and repression in Cambodia following demonstrations by garment and footwear workers calling for a raise in the minimum wage.
The groups, including Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Worker Rights Consortium, Maquila Solidarity Network, United Students Against Sweatshops, International Union League for Brand Responsibility, Workers United, SEIU, Framtiden i våre hender, and CNV Internationaal, The Netherlands, are calling on global clothing brands to take immediate action and contact the Cambodian government demanding:
- Immediate end to all violence and intimidation against workers and their representatives;
- Release of all those who have been detained for participation in the struggles ;
- Respect for freedom of association and the workers’ right to strike;
- Refraining from charging the workers and trade union leaders who have participated in the strike;
- Resumption of good-faith minimum wage negotiations; and
- Ensuring all those responsible for the violence against the strikers are held to account.
Violence against garment workers began after Cambodian unions called a national strike on December 24, 2013. Workers were demanding an increase in the minimum wage to USD 160 per month. As protests continued, the police and military responded with violence on January 2 and 3, killing at least 4 people and injuring almost 40.
Seven brands sent an open letter to the Government of Cambodia on January 7 expressing their concerns over the recent violence. It is commendable that these brands are willing to speak up and appalling that so many others have remained silent in the face of such blatant human rights violations in their sector. The letter did not go far enough however, in denouncing the reprehensible conduct of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which has condoned the government’s use of deadly force against striking workers. As poverty wages are at the root of the demonstrations, global clothing brands must also recognise the role they play and take immediate action including:
- Publicly stating that any future apparel and footwear orders in Cambodia depend on: an immediate end to the violence against workers; the release of all those detained in the wage protests and the dropping of all charges; and government re-establishing the right to strike and assemble;
- Paying fair prices to factories, sufficient to enable employers to pay a decent wage;
- Supporting the workers’ call for a substantial increase in the minimum wage (to USD 160); and
- Committing to maintaining buying volumes from Cambodia if wages were to rise.
“Whilst our primary concern is the safety and well-being of those workers who have been detained, we are also calling on brands to look at the long-term implications of their purchasing practices.” said Jeroen Merk of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “Until brands recognise that these practices contribute to the poverty wages received by workers in Cambodia, and in turn the demonstrations we are witnessing, then no brand sourcing from Cambodia can claim to be acting fairly or decently.”
Cambodia's garment industry employs over 500,000 people, is responsible for around 95% of Cambodia's export industry and is worth €3.38 billion a year. The minimum wage falls a long way short of a living wage, and the poverty wages workers receive contribute to shocking levels of malnutrition amongst the mainly young female workforce.
“These latest horrific developments demonstrate why authorities can no longer afford to ignore the social problems and poor living conditions facing workers in Cambodia today,” said Tola Meoun, Head of Labor Programmes for the Cambodian NGO Community Legal Education Centre.
On Friday, January 10th, actions will take place at embassies and other locations around the world in a day of solidarity with Cambodian workers. As part of this day of action campaigners will call on the government of Cambodia to release those detained in the protests and resume minimum wage negotiations.