Cambodia: an agenda for social justice and radical change
Cambodia has dropped off the media radar recently, but the unions there are still struggling for a living wage and the free trade unionism that would be needed to achieve it. None of the issues raised by the workers who took to the streets at the turn of the year have yet been resolved. But the workers’ group of the ILO Governing Body which met in Geneva last month advanced a concrete agenda for change. We need to press the British government and British multinationals to use their influence to see it implemented.
The three key demands of the Government of Cambodia are:
- Minimum wage: the Cambodian government should raise the minimum wage, in consultation with trade unions, and set a timetable to achieve a truly adequate living wage;
Respect freedom of association: the Cambodian government must allow workers to assemble freely and abandon the freeze on the registration of new trade unions.
The workers’ group also addressed a number of demands to the garment manufacturers of Cambodia and international garment brands:
End abusive lawsuits: garment manufacturers must drop the lawsuits against union leaders and even ordinary workers, and the brands that source from these manufacturers should use their leverage to ensure that they are dropped. There will be no way to get beyond the current situation and to re-establish industrial relations with the threat of bankrupting lawsuits looming;
Supply-chain responsibility: many international garment brands have joined international unions to call on the government to respect fundamental labour rights and to raise the minimum wage. However, the brands have a responsibility to ensure that human rights are respected throughout their supply chains, down to the factories they source from.
Further, international brands must use their leverage and urge the Government of Cambodia to respect freedom of association and to raise the minimum wage. Indeed, as the garment sector represents roughly 80% of the Cambodian economy, the brands have significant leverage they can exercise if they so choose. It is in the brands’ own best interest, to ensure stability and predictability, if there is a sustainable industry based upon respect for fundamental rights and an adequate liveable wage. The brands must make clear that their long term commitment to Cambodia depends on the government acting now on the points above.
Finally, the workers’ group called on foreign governments to press the Government of Cambodia to take urgent action, making sure that it faces the consequences of security forces gunning down workers in the street, jailing striking workers, severely limiting peaceful assembly and refusing to register new unions. Instead of business as usual, foreign governments like our own should review their relationship with Cambodia, an in particular conditioning all forms of economic aid or assistance on taking the measures called for in this resolution.