Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cambodia could be a headache for apparel companies in 2014

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January 7, 2014, 1:12 PM
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Cambodian soldiers patrol along a street in Phnom Penh on January 4, 2014.
Cambodia’s garment industry could be a headache for apparel companies this year.
After a deadly Cambodia government crackdown on garment-worker protesters last week, apparel retailers and manufacturers from Gap Inc. GPS  to H&M sent an open letter to the government calling for all sides to resolve their dispute over the minimum wage peacefully.
The letter, addressed to the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Garment Manufacturers Association and several trade unions,  expressed “deep felt concern over the tragic events that took place on” Jan. 3, when the government’s crackdown reportedly killed at least four people and injured more than 30.
“It is with great concern that we have observed both the widespread civil unrest and the government’s use of deadly force,” the letter said. “Our primary concerns are for the security and safety of the workers employed by our suppliers and the long-term stability of the Cambodian garment industry.”
Zara parent Inditex, Levi Strauss & Co., Puma, Adidas ADDYY s, and Columbia Sportswear Co. COLM +0.03% also signed the letter. The companies said they “endorse and support the development of a regularly-scheduled wage review,” which they said is fundamental to peaceful wage negotiations in the future. They also pledged commitment to Cambodia and its long-term economic development.
The violent crackdown took place after garment workers rejected the government’s offer of a $15 monthly wage increase to $95 on Dec. 24 and a subsequent offer to increase wages to $100 a month as the workers called for a wage increase of $160 a month, Women’s Wear Daily reported.
The Asia Floor Wage Alliance, a group of trade unions and labor rights activists, estimates that a living wage for Cambodian garment workers should be $283 per month, the Wall Street Journal reported, adding the garment industry is the country’s largest export business, employing about 600,000 mostly female workers in about 800 clothing and shoe factories.
“Employers in the garment sector, a $5 billion annual export industry which increased production by over 20% last year, have been resisting attempts to improve and enforce labor laws and to publicly expose companies which breach the law,” said an international labor coalition that includes IndustriAll Global Union.
The country’s Garment Manufacturers Association told Women’s Wear Daily the brands are “listening to only one story,” and challenged the Western companies to show their commitment by continuing to place orders in Cambodia despite the industrial action and to increase their buying price by 15% to address the wage increase instated earlier in May, from $65 to $80.
The latest death toll from Cambodia highlights yet another complication challenging Western apparel companies as they are often forced to compete on price and lure customers in what is described as a race to the bottom. Western apparel sellers inked different initiatives last year to improve worker safety in Bangladesh in the wake of a garment factory collapse that killed more than 1,100. Bangladesh, whose nearly $20 billion apparel industry makes it the No. 2 garment exporter behind China, in November said it will raise the minimum wage for its garment workers to $68 a month from $38, according to media reports.
Cambodia’s apparel industry suffered estimated losses of more than $250 million in sales and investment during the nearly two-week nationwide strikes, Women’s Wear Daily reported.
– Andria Cheng

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Military Police Deny Their Bullets Killed Five Protesters

Source from Cambodia Daily 

A spokesman for the military police said Monday that there would be no investigation into the killing of five stone-throwing protesters and the wounding of more than 20 on Friday in Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Street, and that the military police had behaved “ethically” when they opened fire.
Brigadier General Kheng Tito said military police—who were witnessed firing AK-47 assault rifles and killing and wounding protesters on official orders—were “very ethical.”
Brig. Gen. Tito also claimed that it was unclear who had shot the five protesters.
“We never shoot at a target to take a life,” he claimed, adding that although the military police were armed, they did not aim at, or shoot to kill.
“So, we don’t know who killed them,” he claimed.
Both the police and military police have issued similarly incredulous denials of killing protesters in the past.
When a woman bystander was shot dead by police gunfire in the Stung Meanchey area during a clash with stone-throwing protesters in November, the police denied their bullets were responsible. And, near the Monivong Bridge in September, the police and military police also denied their bullets killed another bystander during a stone-throwing incident.
Neither of those killings have been investigated, and Brig. Gen. Tito said that the military police officers who opened fire on Friday would not be investigated for the five deaths and more than 20 injured on Veng Sreng Street.
Protesters, however, who threw rocks at military police, would be investigated, he said.
“An investigation will be made just to find the persons who caused violence and to find the inciters,” he said. “If an investigation is needed, it will be for finding the ringleaders.”
Brig. Gen. Tito also said that about 30 military police had been slightly injured by the stone-throwers, who also burned wooden tables and pallets at makeshift barricades, and had attempted to make and thrown Molotov cocktails.
“A total of 30 military police were injured, but with minor injuries, but there were a lot of police who got serious injuries,” he said.
He added that a “Phnom Penh military police organization” would cover the medical expenses of the slightly injured officers, while the families of injured protesters would be expected to foot their own bills.
“Humanitarians who felt sympathy for the injured military” had also donated money toward their medical expenses, Brig. Gen. Tito said, declining to say who or how much.
On Friday, the Cambodia Express News reported that former Phnom Penh governor and current CPP lawmaker Kep Chuktema gave about 1 million riel (about $250) to badly injured police and about $125 to those with minor injuries.
Chin Thav, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier based in Kompong Speu province, said that his 19-year-old brother-in-law, Hoeun Kan, a garment worker, remains at Preah Kossamak hospital after being shot in the thigh by the military police.
“Garment workers are poor, so the government that ordered the armed forces to open fire on garment workers should help cover medical expenses for them,” he said.

Cambodian troops beat up garment workers campaigning for living wage

Source from

Garment factory workers were joined by monks to protest for a higher minimum wage. Photo by Moses Ngeth. 
After two weeks of unprecedented strikes by garment factory workers, Cambodian authorities launched a crackdown on Thursday, sending in troops in riot gear to violently disperse protesters. Witnesses report that dozens of people were injured, including monks who had come out to support the factory workers. Our Observer says that Cambodian workers are shockingly underpaid to make clothing for large Western brands.
For months now, the Cambodian opposition has been calling for new elections, after alleging voter fraud in last July’s election, in which long-ruling prime minister Hun Sen was re-elected. The main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has courted the country’s approximately 400,000 garment sector workers by promising that they would double the minimum monthly wage from the equivalent of 80 US dollars to 160 dollars (58 to 116 euros). On Tuesday, the government announced they would raise the minimum wage, but only by 15 dollars. This outraged the garment sector unions, who rallied to the opposition and launched a massive strike.
Cambodia’s garment sector is worth about 3.6 million euros. It is the country’s largest employer, and its biggest source of much-needed foreign income.
A group of protesters face off with soldiers in riot gear. Photo by Moses Ngeth.

“The current wages for garment factory workers are not sustainable”

Mory Sar is a human rights activist and the vice president of the Cambodian Youth Network. He went to Thursday’s protest to monitor the situation.

Garment workers went out to protest in front of Yak Jin factory a few miles out of Phnom Penh this morning [whose clients include GAP and Walmart]. Quite a few monks came out in solidarity. But then a confrontation broke out with the troops who had been dispatched to the scene. [According to AFP, some witnesses reported that this started when a few people threw stones toward the troops.] The soldiers started hitting protesters with clubs quite viciously. One monk was beaten so badly he wound up in the hospital. Meanwhile several monks and protest leaders were taken into detention.
A monk being treated in the hospital following Thursday morning's clashes between protesters and soldiers. Photo by Moses Ngeth, an activist with the Community Legal Education Centre. 
“Monks are highly respected in Cambodia; the authorities don’t want more of them joining the protests”
I wasn’t surprised by this violence: we were expecting a crackdown, because the authorities said that starting tomorrow [Friday], workers would be forced to go back to their jobs. I was quite appalled to see that soldiers were brought out to do the police’s job, and used such force. [The use of a special military command unit in such a situation is unprecedented and “signals a disturbing new tactic by the authorities”, according to a statement by the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights]. The fact that they lashed out at monks is shocking, but I believe this is strategic: monks are highly respected in Cambodia, and the authorities don’t want more of them joining the protests.
Monks forming a human chain between garment workers and troops on Thursday afternoon. Following the morning's crackdown, protesters blocked roads. Photo by Moses Ngeth.
“The protests won’t die down just yet”
However, I don’t think the protests will die down just yet. All of those protesting are saying that they’ll be back out in the streets tomorrow, because now, they no longer have just one demand – a higher minimum wage – but two: a higher minimum wage and the release of their arrested leaders.
Moreover, the protesters know that what they’re asking for is reasonable. Doubling their wages may sound like a lot, but they are drastically underpaid to begin with. The cost of everything has increased over the past few years – renting a house, electricity, goods in the market… all of it. Economists have calculated that 160 dollars is just enough for workers to live decently – to eat, to pay for their children’s studies, to pay for health care, very basic things like that. If the minimum wage was 160 dollars, that would still make labour here quite cheap compared to most countries in the world, not to mention that taxes are quite low. So none of the protesters are worried about the factories closing and moving elsewhere.
Currently, garment workers have to work tons of overtime to make ends meet. Most of these workers come from rural areas, and have to support families back home. The current wages are simply not sustainable.

Denunciation of government deadly crackdown on Phnom Penh demonstration

Last Update 6 January 2014

The Cambodian authorities’ use of lethal force against striking workers on 3 January in Phnom Penh has been condemned by FIDH and its member organizations ADHOC and LICADHO. The three organizations also express their serious concern over the authorities’ crackdown on anti-government protesters and the judicial harassment of opposition leaders.

The killing of demonstrators by government authorities is totally unacceptable, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. The government must use dialogue, not guns and batons, to address workers’ demands and to deal with political dissent, he added.

On January 3, security forces attacked striking workers at Canadia Industrial Park, in southwest Phnom Penh. The area is home to numerous garment factories that make clothing for global brands. After unsuccessful attempts to clear the striking workers from a road they had been blocking, clashes escalated and police opened fire on the workers. At least four workers were killed and more than 20 suffered bullet wounds. Police also detained at least 13 people.

Tens of thousands of garment workers in Phnom Penh began strikes and protests in late December to demand that the government increase the monthly minimum wage for garment and footwear workers from US$80 to US$160. On December 31, 2013, the Cambodian Labor Ministry announced that the minimum wage would be raised to US$100 per month in February, 2014.

The January 3 deadly crackdown followed an attack on striking workers a day earlier outside a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Pursenchey District. Soldiers from Special Command Unit 911 attacked the striking workers with batons and injured 20 people. Soldiers also detained 15 people, including eight workers, five monks, and human rights defenders Vorn Pov and Theng Savuen, President of the Independent Democracy of Information Economic Association (IDEA) and Coordinator of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) respectively. Ten of those arrested on charges of committing acts of violence and causing damage under Article 218 and 414 of the Criminal Code. Although the court originally stated that the arrestees would be detained in Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 1 (CC1), they never arrived and authorities hid their actual location for two days. Instead of being sent to CC1, the arrestees were transported to Correctional Centers 3 and 4, which are located outside of Phnom Penh. Some had been brutally beaten during their arrest and were in urgent need of medical care.

The deployment of military units and the use of lethal force to suppress workers’ legitimate right to strike are extremely troubling, said ADHOC President Thun Saray. 
The government must launch a quick, thorough, and independent investigation into the 3 January killings and hold those responsible accountable. Authorities must also immediately release workers, monks, and human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily detained in connection with the protests, Mr. Saray urged.

The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require that the use of force is subject to the requirements of necessity and proportionality. Specifically, the Basic Principles state that firearms shall never be used unless “less extreme means are insufficient.” In addition, whenever the use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall “respect and preserve human life.”

In addition, the ILO interpretation of its Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (Convention No 87), which Cambodia has ratified, stated that “no one should be deprived of their freedom or be subject to penal sanctions for the mere fact of organizing or participating in a peaceful strike.”

At the same time as its violent response to the workers’ strikes, the Cambodia government also cracked down on opposition leaders and peaceful anti-government protests.

On January 3, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summoned Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, the leaders of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), to appear for questioning on January 14. The court said the two would be questioned about their alleged involvement in inciting people to commit crimes and committing acts that led to social unrest.

On January 4, riot police dispersed about 1,000 anti-government protesters from Freedom Park in central Phnom Penh. Police armed with batons and thugs wearing civilian clothes beat and chased protesters, including monks and women, from the protest site and destroyed stages and other structures, including a Buddhist shrine. Anti-government protesters had camped at Freedom Park since mid-December to demand that Prime Minister Hun Sen step down and call new elections.

The authorities have responded to peaceful anti-government demonstration with violence, said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge. It is obvious that the government has used the workers’ protest as a pretext to clamp down on it political opponents, she added.

On January 4, Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong banned the CNRP from holding any protests in the capital “until the security situation has returned to normal.”

A sweeping, indefinite ban on political protests is unlawful and unmotivated, said Ms. Pilorge. The government should tolerate peaceful dissent and end the ongoing harassment of its political opponents, she urged.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Source from

By Nathan A Thompson
2 points on reddit
An injured man is carried from the scene of the clashes in Cambodia this morning (photo by Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom)
Four people were killed and 21 more were injured in Cambodia this morning, when police opened fire with AK-47s into a group of protesters. The deaths come after months of tension and escalating violence between the authorities and garment workers who are demanding higher wages.
Things came to a head on Thursday evening, when a police battalion in Phnom Penh were beaten back from an apartment block that had been seized by protesters during a day of demonstrations. By this morning, the military cops were engaged in a standoff on Veng Sreng Boulevard – one of the main roads out of the Cambodian capital – and the makeup of their opponents was a curious one. The factory workers, 90 percent of whom are women, had at some point been replaced by groups of metal pole and machete wielding young men, gathered together behind rows of Molotov cocktails.
At some point, the military police chose to respond to a barrage of rocks, bricks and petrol bombs with gunfire. A nearby clinic that had refused to help the injured was ransacked. One of the injured was a pregnant woman who had been trying to escape the chaos.
Protesters block the road in November
The tragic scenes come after several months of strikes by workers at the SL Factory, which supplies Western chains with clothes. The SL workers' own strike ended on the 22nd of December, just in time for them to join a nationwide strike on Christmas Day. The deaths this morning weren't the first. A protest in November saw an innocent bystander – a food vendor named Eng Sokhom – killed by a stray police bullet to the chest, with a further nine getting wounded and 37 arrested. The crackdown actually started last August, when 19 union members were fired and SL Factory shareholder, Meas Sotha, brought his private guards into the factory for "security".
Though the 19 workers were later reinstated, clearly that didn't do much in terms of quelling the rage felt by SL's employees.
The SL garment factory
The aggro isn't confined to the SL Factory. The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) estimates that over a quarter of working days in the last two years have been lost due to strikes. I lost a working day last May when I found my road home blocked by three enormous concrete pipes that had been dragged into place by cheering, pyjama-wearing factory workers (pyjamas are acceptable daywear in Cambodia).
While men on scooters tried to circumnavigate the blockade by slipping and sliding through a drainage ditch, I stopped and talked with those involved. I found a story that would repeat itself at the gates of factories throughout Cambodia – the workers said they needed higher wages but the bosses said they could not afford to pay them. Both agreed that the onus was on Western chains to pay more for the garments they were buying.
Inside the SL garment factory
Cambodia’s clothing industry makes up 80 percent of the country's exports and employs 400,000 people, with an estimated 300,000 more working in supporting roles. Almost all are young, female and poor. As a result, rural Cambodian villages are devoid of school-leavers as they get absorbed into the industry. It's a punitive cycle. I lived in a Cambodian village and noticed the older girls from my English class kept disappearing. “Where’s Srey Neung?” I would ask, to give an example. “She’s gone to work in a factory," would come the typical reply.
Srey Neung, like many her age, now works 60 hours per week in order to send the equivalent of £18 home to her family. She’s relatively lucky to be starting work in 2013. Ten years ago, the situation for workers was atrocious. Rina Roat started her working life in the factories back in 2003. She told me that her basic salary was £27 per month. She had to work up to 20 hours a day including overtime to support herself. She suffered from depression and exhaustion but was too afraid to complain in case she lost her job. She's now an entrepreneur but her hands remain thick with scar tissue from years spent tending to the machines.
Since Rina’s day, there have been small improvements. The minimum wage per month hasincreased from £27 to £48 between 1997 and 2013. But is this enough to cover the cost of living? Joseph Lee, Director of SL Factory, told me that the minimum one of his workers needed to survive is £35 per month – that’s if they shared a tiny room with four others, ate only super-cheap Ramen noodles and commuted in overstuffed cattle trucks.
That’s nowhere near enough, said Ath Thorn, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU). He pointed out that Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour found that garment workers needed at least £95 per month to cover the cost of living. This kind of bickering between factories and unions is typical and often results in protests and violence. 
Joseph Lee, Director of SL Factory
Joseph Lee says this year has been the worst he can remember. He told me that his driver was left half blind after a clash between strikers and security staff at the factory on the 1st of November. The driver was trying to escape the ruckus when a ball bearing was fired from a slingshot. It exploded his eyeball on impact. Lee also alleges that a worker who didn’t want to join the protest was hit by a brick on his way to work. “He used to be the most handsome man in the factory but not any more,” Lee explained. “I want to increase wages but how can I when the buyers keep pushing me to reduce my price?”
One buyer has taken some responsibility. H&M have chosen two factories in Bangladesh and one in Cambodia to pilot a scheme where they interview the management and staff to discover what is a living wage and supply the extra funds from their own profits. They have pledged to pay a living wage, but not until 2018. Koh Chong Ho, the general manager of SL Factory, told me that if the buyers increased their price he'd be able to pay his workers more and that this would go a long way to creating peace and stability in the industry.
Clearly Western brands need to take more responsibility but that won’t solve the problem completely; not while corruption remains uncurtailed. Cambodia is ranked as the 17th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International. Kol Preap, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia told me that while there are no exact figures, he knows that garment factories pay massive bribes to officials. Koh declined to comment on this.
Opposition party the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) claim to have been cheated out of winning last summer’s elections and have seen their ranks swell with garment factory workers after promising them their desired wage increase to £160 per month. The pressure on Prime Minister Hun Sen is mounting. Everyone's waiting to see what will happen on Sunday, when the CNRP has called for another demonstration.
Follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanWrites and check out his website.
More bad things happening because of cheap clothes:

Friday, January 3, 2014

Three Killed as Police Open Fire on Protesters

Source from Cambodia Daily 

At least three people were killed Friday morning when police opened fire on several hundred protesters blocking a street at Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, police confirmed.
“So far, three are confirmed dead, two injured and two men were arrested by armed forces,” Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Chuon Narin said shortly after the incident at about 10 a.m.
Protesters help a man injured during clashes between police and garment workers at Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh's Pur Senchey district on Friday. Police confirmed three people were killed during the violence. (Siv Channa)
Protesters help a man injured during clashes between police and garment workers at Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district on Friday. Police confirmed three people were killed during the violence. (Siv Channa)
Hundreds of young men and some women armed with sticks, rocks and Molotov cocktails confronted military police armed with AK-47s, riot shields and batons on Friday, following a night of fighting between both sides in the same location.
Barricades continued to burn and rubble was strewn across the road as both sides continued to clash Friday morning and afternoon. A medical clinic was destroyed by the demonstrators—mostly striking garment factory workers—allegedly because the clinic had refused to treat those injured by military police gunfire.
Hundreds of military police are deployed near the entrance of the Canadia Industrial Park, which is the center of the ongoing conflict, and pitched battles continued with military police unable to contain the rioting.
Reports from Thursday night and early Friday morning were that the demonstrators beat back several police assaults to restore order in the area.
According to witnesses, military police gunfire from AK-47 assault rifles was sustained and targeted. Gunshots continued to ring out Friday afternoon. Bullet holes could be seen on the upper floors of an apartment building housing garment factory workers.
Major General Roth Srieng, commander of the Phnom Penh Municipal Military Police, defended the killing of the three people. “We cannot allow them to block the road and we have to crack down on them,” Mr. Srieng said. “We have no choice.”
Last night, military police tried to break up a strike of thousands of striking garment factory workers who have been demanding higher wages at the Canadia Industrial Park.
According to Bun Van, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, more than 200 military police had moved in with batons, shields and rifles, injuring about 10 workers.