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Support grows for Cambodian garment workers after violent government crackdown

January 17, 2014

Female garment worker at peaceful January rally

Photo by LICADHO

Solidarity actions are taking place around the world in support of Cambodian garment workers who are facing government repression for taking part in a massive strike for an increased minimum wage. The workers currently receive some of the lowest wages in garment-producing countries around the world.

The Cambodian government responded to the strike, which began on December 24, with a violent crackdown that forced the striking workers back to work, followed by a wave of repression against their union representatives and supporters.

The government’s crackdown began on January 2-3 when military police armed with assault rifles shot into a crowd of protestors, killing at least four people and injuring close to forty others.

Since then, at least 23 people have been detained in a notorious isolated prison, a number of trade union activists face summonses from the courts, public assemblies have been banned in the capital city, Phnom Penh, employers are threatening to bring lawsuits against union leaders, and at least 200 workers have been fired for going on strike.

In response to the crackdown and ongoing repression, protests have been held at Cambodian embassies around the world.

On January 9, international labour rights organizations, including MSN and the Clean Clothes Campaign, released a Joint Statement calling on apparel brands and retailers in North America and Europe to speak out against the anti-worker violence and repression and in support of a resumption of minimum wage negotiations.

In Canada, MSN and Workers United sent similar letters to 16 Canadian retailers and brands whose apparel products are made in Cambodia.

Take Action:
Demonstrate your support for Cambodian garment workers by signing online petitions to the Cambodian government:

Cambodia: Stop government violence against workers (Labour Start Campaign)

Prime Minister Hun Sen: Protect right to peaceful protest and end military crackdown in  Cambodia (Avaaz Campaign)

Watch a short video on the government violence against the striking workers by the Cambodia NGO Licadho.

Starvation wages are the root cause of the worker unrest in Cambodia, and international apparel brands and retailers share responsibility for these low wages because of the low prices they pay to their suppliers.

The minimum wage for garment workers in Cambodia is currently $80/month. The workers are demanding it be raised to $160/month. The government responded to the strike by offering to raise it to $100/month.

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance  estimates that Cambodian workers need $283/month to meet their basic needs.

A Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) study shows that Cambodian garment workers’ real wages actually decreased by 22% between 2001 and 2011.

A recent study by Labour Behind the Label and the Cambodian Community Legal Education Centre shows that the main cause of mass fainting of workers in Cambodian garment factories is poor nutrition caused by poverty wages.

Brands and retailers must increase the prices they pay to suppliers in Cambodia and other countries and ensure that the increases in those prices go to workers’ wages.