#Cambodia: Government & global brands under pressure
Since striking garment textile workers were shot dead by the Cambodian authorities last week, international pressure is growing, and the Cambodian government, employers and international brands are in the dock.
Global unions have stepped up the campaign – often partnered with NGOs – to insist that the Government end the violence, investigate the killings and hold those responsible accountable, provide medical assistance to injured protesters and release their leaders, and return to the negotiating table in good faith to reach a deal with employers and unions over a living wage. You can add your voice by signing the LabourStart petition which will be sent to the Cambodian Government and employers.
Employers in Cambodia are on the defensive over their earlier enthusiasm for the violence of the security forces, as international brands come under pressure to insist that violence should have no place in industrial relations, and require their Cambodian partners negotiate honestly with unions to increase the minimum wage, but they are still planning to sue unions for the costs of lost production.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has written to the Cambodian Ambassador in London as part of an ITUC campaign protesting at the violent repression of the garment workers’ strike and demanding a peaceful and just settlement to the dispute. Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) have also called for an investigation into the killings, as has the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, due to arrive in the country for the first time since the disputed elections last summer. Junior minister Hugo Swire MP has expressed the British Government’s view that:
“we are deeply concerned by the disproportionate use of force by the security forces in Phnom Penh on 3 and 4 January. The government of Cambodia must respect the right to peaceful freedom of assembly..”
The TUC is playing its part in global union discussions with international businesses to use their global supply chains to put pressure on the Cambodian government and employers to raise wages through negotiations with the unions, and some transnational companies have already gone public with their concerns.
Cambodia is just one of the countries where global businesses are seeking cheap clothes, and this short film by Heather Stilwell shows the background to the dispute and the violent clashes that have rocked the capital, Phnom Penh, and this article sets out the reality of Cambodian textile sector wages and how they have dropped significantly in real terms despite a booming export record. And it isn’t only garment workers in Cambodia who are being attacked for defending their rights: the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association was threatened with deregistration and its leaders harassed: they have called off further planned strikes due to the crisis in the textile industry.
Cambodian employers and politicians need to face up to their responsibilities under ILO and other international conventions, and global business needs to do the same. Workers everywhere have the right to collectively bargain for higher wages and better conditions at work, to associate freely, and to assemble and voice their protests.