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Cambodian garment workers mobilize for $177/month minimum wage

September 19, 2014

Photo (above) by Heather Stilwell

Photo (below) by Workers United

Internationally, the Global Unions, the North American garment workers' union Workers United, the Clean Clothes Campaign and other labour rights organizations staged solidarity actions at retail stores of major apparel brands and at Cambodian embassies in the UK, Europe, Australia, the US and Canada.

In Toronto, approximately 50 members of the local Cambodian community, Workers United, the Workers' Action Centre, the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, and MSN chanted slogans and delivered letters to store managers at H&M, adidas and Gap stores.

Back in Cambodia, 10,000 workers wore orange t-shirts and stickers bearing the logos of adidas, C&A, Gap, H&M, Levi's, Puma, Walmart and Zara, and calling on the brands to "provide basic wage $177."

Representatives of Gap, H&M and Adidas have responded by stating that they support a living wage for workers at their supplier factories, but that setting a minimum wage is a government decision that is out of their hands.

"[International brands] cannot keep saying they are not involved in wage setting... they are the ones with the profits," said Kong Athit, Vice-President of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU). "They have to make sure there is some money out of their profit to guarantee workers get a least $177...."

Cambodian unions and their international supporters are calling on apparel brands sourcing from Cambodia to negotiate directly with Cambodian unions on the prices they pay to their suppliers to ensure they are sufficient to allow for payment of a living wage, and to ensure that any increase in price goes to workers' wages rather than the profits of factory owners.

Even the garment manufacturers association in Cambodia (GMAC) seems to agree that the brands bear primary responsibility for ensuring that the workers receive a living wage. "The money is in the pocket of the buyers; if we were paid more, we would pay more to the workers," said GMAC secretary general Ken Loo.

The Day of Action took place as negotiations on the minimum wage are about to resume later this month between the unions, employers and the Cambodian government.

In January, tens of thousands of garment workers participated in a nation-wide strike for an increased minimum wage that was brutally crushed by government repression including the murder of five protesters by heavily armed security forces.

Rather than arresting those responsible for the murders, the government detained 23 union and labour rights activists. An international campaign was successful in gaining the release of the 23, though the guilty verdicts handed down by the courts could be used to re-arrest them at any time.

As minimum wage negotiations are about to resume, the government is once again attempting to intimidate the workers' movement into submission, threatening to bring charges against five important union leaders for their role in the January work stoppage And prohibiting their participation in public demonstrations.

Petition to all brands sourcing from Cambodia demanding they take immediate steps to:

• guarantee a minimum wage of at least US$177 in their supply chains in Cambodia with immediate effect;
• make a long term commitment to continue their sourcing from Cambodia;
• agree to increase their FoB (freight on board) price to reflect this increase;
• engage with the Cambodian unions through legally binding collective bargaining agreements.


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