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Fast-Fashion Brands Support Wage Bargaining for Cambodia’s Garment Workers

Negotiations kicked off Friday between union, employer and government representatives in Cambodia to decide how much to hike the monthly minimum wage for the country’s garment workers.

Currently set at $128, leaders from more than a dozen of the sector’s unions—representing more than 700,000 employees—have repeatedly failed to agree on a number, with proposals to the Labor Advisory Council (LAC) ranging from $158 to $178.

Textile and garment manufacturing accounts for around 80 percent of Cambodia’s exports and is worth more than $5 billion annually, and factory owners are worried that raising the minimum wage will cause clothing giants to take their business to other low-cost countries.

But a number of international brands that source from Cambodian factories, including H&M, Inditex, Primark, C&A and Topshop, are in favor of paying garment workers a living wage.

The companies last week met with suppliers, unions, government ministries and the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Phnom Penh to discuss ACT, an initiative launched earlier this year by IndustriAll Global Union to establish an industry-wide bargaining process that brings together local reps of manufacturers and workers in garment-producing countries to negotiate and agree wages and conditions.

Cambodia is the first such country chosen in which to start the process.

“Industry-wide collective bargaining takes wages out of competition, which means supplier factories can’t push down wages to win business,” IndustriAll’s policy director, Jenny Holdcroft, said in a statement. “Support of the brands through their purchasing practices will mean that factories will be able to pay workers more, while improved working conditions, productivity and efficiency can also be covered in an industry-wide agreement.”

But tensions are still running high. According to The Cambodia Daily, a letter sent to LAC this week from independent unions threatened mass protests if their demands for a $178-a-month minimum wage are not met.