Cambodia’s government announced Friday that it will be raising the country’s minimum wage for textile workers by 4.4 percent to $190 per month.
The move comes amid increasing pressure from the European Union, which declared in February that it would be withdrawing preferential duty-free and quota-free status for inputs from Cambodia because of “severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labor rights.” Cambodia is among several developing nations that have favored “Everything but Arms” access to the European market.
The EU triggered a review of the Southeast Asian nation’s trade privileges after Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 National Assembly seats, which human-rights groups and the United Nations denounced as flawed and illegitimate because its main opponent, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved in November 2017 by Cambodia’s Supreme Court.
The White House, which called the elections “neither free nor fair,” responded by expanding visa restrictions on individuals responsible for Cambodia’s “anti-democratic” actions.
With nearly 800,000 people working in roughly 1,000 garment and shoe factories, the clothing and footwear industry is Cambodia’s largest employer. In 2018, the nation exported nearly $10 billion worth of products to the United States and Europe—an increase of 24 percent from $8 billion in 2017, according to the National Bank of Cambodia.
Officials told the Associated Press that with the inclusion of overtime and other benefits, workers will make an average of $207 to $218 per month.
Pav Sina, chief of the Collective Union of the Movement of Workers, told the news agency that the wage increase was “acceptable” while Cambodia faced the possibility of losing its EU status, which would be a huge blow not only for the garment and footwear sector but the country as a whole.
Earlier this year, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had hit out against the EU, calling its decision to lift its preferential status as an “extreme injustice” that ignored the government’s efforts to improve civil and political rights.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has been similarly defiant.
“I will go to the United Nations to make a speech for you to see that as a sovereign state, which held its own elections, we don’t need stamps of approval from anyone,” he told a group of athletes in Phnom Penh last August.