Global brands leave Cambodian workers fainting over fashion

On International Human Rights Day, labour network Clean Clothes Campaign joins more than 25 countries in a global call on major brands such as H&M, GAP, Levi's and Inditex to make sure Cambodian workers receive US$177 as a first step towards a living wage.

In addition, the organisations supports the Cambodian union coalition to make sure a controversial Trade Union Draft Law will not be passed before genuine and inclusive consultation with civil society and trade unions is garantueed by the government of Cambodia.

Stores of H&M, adidas and others will be targeted in street actions in the US, Europe and Asia. In Cambodia, thousands of workers from a coalition of eight unions will rally the streets in 3 provinces, wearing stickers saying: 'We need a living wage!"

In October, the Labour Advisory Council (LAC), a tripartate wage-setting body voted to approve a new minimum wage of $140, to be implemented in January 2016 for Cambodia’s 700,000 garment workers, despite objections from a number of unions. This insufficient $12 wage increase is a slap in the face to workers who have been organizing for over a year to demand a fair minimum wage of $177.

Cambodia recently saw another wave of mass faintings in garment factories. In August 2015, nearly 400 workers fainted in four factories across Cambodia. On July 2 alone, 38 workers lost consciousness in a factory in Phnom Penh. In 2014, the Ministry of Labor recorded that more than 1,800 workers collapsed in 24 factories. Mass faintings have been linked to malnutrition, high targets and long working hours, as a consequence to low wages and the need to survive.

A coalition of Cambodian unions are joining together to demand that the brands immediately ensure a minimum wage of US $177 is paid in their Cambodian suppliers and negotiate directly with Cambodian unions a binding agreement to achieve living wages, decent purchasing practices, stable employment, and union rights for the long-term. They also urge the goverment to refrain from passing the law until genuine consultation has taken place with independent unions.

Athit Kong, Vice President of C.CAWDU, an independent union in Cambodia, says: “After years of campaigning, it is clear that the only way Cambodian workers will get a decent wage they can live on, is collective bargaining between brands, as the principle employers, and the garment unions. A minimum wage of US$140, as it's set now, is like throwing bread crumbs at your poverished workers. To simply survive, we need $177 as a very first basic step.”

Some brands, such as H&M and adidas, have made public statements that they support a fair living wage for workers in their supply chains. However, these assertions ring hollow to workers who often work excessive overtime and still cannot provide for the basic needs of themselves and their families.

Parralel to the process of the minimum wage announcement, a controversial Trade Union Draft Law, aimed at regulating the Kingdom’s 3,400 trade unions was approved by the Council of Ministers on 13 November and can be passed any time by the National Assembly. So far no true consultation has been taken up with the independent unions in Cambodia.

Trade union federations and civil society groups warn for 'vague language', which makes the law weak and easy to use as tool to infringe workers' rights. Controversial issues remain in the approved draft that still make registration of federations difficult and infringe on the autonomy of union operation. It allows entire unions to be dissolved if individual officials within the union act illegally. Other provisions include financial penalties for any union found to have breached the Trade Union Law which are so high they could bankrupt the union.

Clean Clothes Campaign urges brands to make sure US$177 is paid immediately to the workers and genuine consultation takes places between the coalition of independent unions and the government regarding the Trade Union Law continues to support the women and men around the world who produce apparel for major multinational brands.

Since late 2013 Cambodian workers have been demanding an increase in the minimum wage to a fairer wage of $177 in order to take crucial steps towards the payment of a living wage. In early January 2014, wage struggles escalated when police and military cracked down on wage protests and five people were killed, 23 were arrested, and many others were injured.