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Cambodia unrest worries global brands

Publication Date : 09-01-2014


Seven popular global clothing and accessories brands have written an open letter to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cabinet expressing "deep concern" over the violence of last week, when troops fired at rioting garment industry workers, killing five and injuring more than 30.

The letter signed by H&M, Gap, Inditex, Puma, adidas, Columbia and Levi Strauss, and also addressed to manufacturers and trade unions, said: "It is with great concern that we have observed both the widespread civil unrest and the government's use of deadly force.

"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. Given the reported deaths and injuries of January 3, we call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from the use of force or violence."

The garment industry was limping back to normal yesterday, with most workers reporting for work - with the exception of the factories off Veng Sreng Road, the site of the violent incident last Friday. About 50 per cent of the workers in factories there were still absent, having fled the area.

There were reports of police searching garment workers returning to Phnom Penh from their villages for weapons, at roadblocks leading into the city.

The workers had gone on strike on December 26, demanding a doubling of their minimum wage, from US$80 a month last year to $160 this year.

A government offer of $90 made over Christmas and later upped to $100 failed to stem widespread anger.

The sector is a major economic engine for Cambodia, providing jobs to as many as half a million people - mostly women - in a country of around 15 million. It earned Cambodia more than $5 billion last year.

Until Wednesday, the strike had caused manufacturers to lose more than $200 million, estimated Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia.

A sweeping government crackdown came as the protests gained momentum, with opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leaders encouraging the workers.

The CNRP is demanding a fresh election, saying it was denied victory in last July's polls due to fraud.

In their letter, the buyers urged the government, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia and trade unions to "immediately join negotiations, in good faith, to swiftly and peacefully resolve this dispute".


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