In an effort to protect the rights clothing industry workers, Ou Virak, President of the Cambodian Center for Human rights, called for greater transparency in Cambodia’s clothing supply chain from producers to buyers.
Accountability of retailers, factories and governments must also be strengthened, he said.
In a panel discussion on human rights and business held in Phnom Penh, Virak said, “There are a lot of obstacles in the relationship between producers and consumers, with a lack of detailed information about the supply process made available.”
“The connection is blurred, ultimately deflecting responsibility to the detriment of workers.”
Among the many principal firms sourcing in Cambodia are Addidas, Gap, H & M, Levis, Nike and Wal-Mart.
Cambodian workers rights is not a new issue. As early as 2010, an open letter on the problem was written to international buyers of Cambodian goods by Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
The opening paragraph of the letter said:
“The [FIDH] is deeply concerned that a recent peaceful and lawful strike by garment and apparel workers in Cambodia has been met with legal threates and court-sponsored retaliation, with tacit approval from the Cambodian government, against union leaders and workers. “
Workers struck to call for a higher minimum wage and for improvement in factory working conditions.
The letter concluded by asking the Cambodian government to stop legal and judicial threats and intimidation of union representatives, workers and labor activists involved in, or supportive of the legal strike.
Those issues have ongoing contemporary relevance. Buyers of Cambodian apparel have multiple producers, according to Virak, and records are not kept current, so responsibility for the violations of workers rights is not always pin-pointed.
With increased transparency, workers would have more protection and violators of workers rights can be identified and appropriate action may be taken.