On the last day of March, approximately 100 workers at Superl Ltd., a handbag factory in Cambodia, received the news that their job contracts would not be renewed. Factory management claimed it was because of a decrease in orders due to Coronavirus. A heavily pregnant worker was among those dismissed. Soy Sros, the female union leader at the factory, went straight to the management to appeal the decision but they refused to meet with her. That same night she wrote a Facebook post about what was happening in the factory and managed to achieve what she hoped for: all the workers had their contracts renewed. However, two days later she was arrested and charged with defamation.
The day following her Facebook post, Soy Sros was asked by the factory management to delete the post, which she did. They also demanded that she sign a letter stating her regret, accept a formal warning and admit that she had posted ‘fake news’ on Facebook, which she refused to do. The next day she was called the management’s office where the police were waiting for her. She was questioned in the police station and spent the night in a cell, before being transferred to court the next morning for further questioning. From court, she was taken to jail, where she spent the next two months. Soy Sros is a widow, a mother to two young children, and a union leader. She is not a criminal and yet she was treated like one.
The Cambodian trade union, the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), of which Soy Sros is a member, contacted the brands sourcing from the factory, asking them to urgently intervene in the case and ensure the charges against her were dropped. None of the companies responded.
Due to international pressure and campaigning from Clean Clothes Campaign, IndustriALL, and other organisations, and coveragein major media outlets, Soy Sros was finally released from prison on bail on 28th May. On 13th June a breakthrough came and the Superl factory management signed an agreement with the trade union stating that:
- Superl’s charges against Soy Sros will be withdrawn
- She will be reinstated in her position
- Soy Sros will receive full back pay for time she spent in custody
- Superl guarantees there will be no retaliation or discrimination against her
- The parties will work together to improve working conditions in the factory.
Soy Sros finally went back to work last Monday. The court, however, has not formally confirmed that the case against her has been closed, and we will continue to push for this to happen.
“This is an important near-full victory and a strong reminder to companies that such unjust treatment of a trade union activist cannot be tolerated," said Pav Sina, CUMW's President. “We hope this case will also inspire other union leaders to make their voices heard.”
Carin Leffler of the Clean Clothes Campaign states: “We are extremely disappointed that the two main customers of Superl, the luxury brands Michael Kors and Kate Spade, did not respond nor demand for the charges against Soy Sros to be withdrawn and her reinstatement. These brands portray themselves as responsible companies however consumers should know that there is a gulf between words and action in this matter.”