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Cambodian Garment Workers Launch Living Wage Campaign

Garment workers in Cambodia are re-voicing their calls for a $177 monthly minimum wage despite the fact that the country’s Labor Advisory Council just approved a $12 wage increase to $140, which is slated to take effect in January.

In a classic case of raise demands, workers say they can’t sustain a living on the too-low wage and factory owners say they can’t sustain a business on the too-high hike.

Since Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the 9 percent wage increase in October, workers and their representative unions have been organizing and planning protest actions if their demands for more money aren’t heard.

According to labor union alliance Clean Clothes Campaign, a group of Cambodian unions are banding together to implore international brands to pay the $177 monthly wage and negotiate a binding agreement to achieve living wages, decent purchasing practices, stable employment and long-term union rights.

In September, fast fashion retailer H&M, which manufactures some of its product in Cambodia, said as part of its Fair Wage Method, it would roll out a better compensation package for 68 factories in China, Cambodia and Bangladesh. H&M has also expressed its support for workers in Cambodia earning a living wage, as has Zara parent Inditex and Primark.

But as Clean Clothes Campaign noted, the public promises hold little weight with workers still toiling and struggling to support their families.

President of Cambodian independent union C.CAWDU Athit Kong said, “This increase of $12 does not reflect the real basic needs of the workers, especially in light of the enormous profits of multinational brands,” Clean Clothes Campaign reported. “It is clear that the only solution to poverty wages in the garment industry is genuine collective bargaining between brands, as the principle employers, and the garment unions. Workers have been organizing for years for a living wage. We need $177 now!”

Garment workers in the country are currently sporting stickers promoting their living wage campaign, and on International Human Rights Day Dec. 10, workers around the globe are expected to show support for Cambodian workers with actions in the workplace, including what Clean Clothes calls “fashion mobs.”

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The Campaign’s Mirjam van Heugten said, “Brands sourcing from Cambodia cannot expect the women and men working in their factories to accept these bread crumbs. The workers effectively slave themselves at factories, only for the brands to make huge profits. The targeted brands such as H&M and Inditex must put their leadership claims into practice by making sure all garment workers receive a living wage.”