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Global Unions, Brands Meet with Cambodian Government to Discuss Workers’ Rights

Global unions and apparel manufacturers held a second round of talks on Monday with the Cambodian government to voice their alarm at ongoing violations of workers’ rights in the country.

IndustriALL Global Union, along with eight international brands including Gap, Puma and Inditex, met with the Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, four senior ministers and other government officials in Phnom Penh to demand a clear timeline in relation to the new Trade Union law, which would give workers the right to unionize and bargain collectively for better conditions.

The group also reiterated their desire for a positive future for the Cambodian garment industry and warned that continued sourcing from the country would depend on stability, transparency, predictability and the rule of law, IndustriALL stated. One unnamed clothing brand reported that it had cut its sourcing from Cambodia by 50 percent in the past year due to concerns about political instability and human rights violations in the country.

The discussion came in the wake of report released last week by the International Trade Union Confederation, which named Cambodia one of the worst countries in the world to work in, with a rate of five for trade union rights abuse. Only Syria and Central African Republic ranked worse.

The meeting was a follow-up to a previous talk with the Deputy Prime Minister and Ministers of Labor and Commerce in February. Despite assurances from the government during that meeting, IndustriALL’s General Secretary, Jyrki Raina, noted there have been “unprecedented levels of intimidation, violence and a declining respect for the rule of law.”

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In the past few months striking garment workers who want Cambodia’s monthly minimum wage to increase from $100—$160 per month have faced police brutality. Other striking workers have been forced back to work by the military, and unions and brands maintain their concern about the continued detention of 21 protesters, IndustriALL stated.

On May 20, labor activists gathered at the Phnom Penh courthouse in support of the remaining imprisoned activists, garment workers and bystanders arrested during the violent crackdown on protests that killed five workers. Hundreds of supporters called for their release, the Asian Correspondent reported.

“The concerted message from global unions and brands to the Cambodian government is clear: political stability and respect for human and worker rights are essential to maintaining sourcing in Cambodia,” Raina said.

Cambodian garment factories reportedly employ around 400,000 workers, and the sector is the country’s biggest export earner. Brands have been warned that more unrest and poor treatment of workers could threaten the county’s future as a stable sourcing location.