Gap Workers Abused: Report

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The Asian Floor Wages Alliance released reports about factories supplying brands Gap and H&M this week, pointing to industry-wide rights abuses. KT/Chor Sokunthea

A report released yesterday alleged longstanding abuse of worker rights at some of fashion brand Gap’s supplier factories in Cambodia.
 
Drawing from interviews with garment factory workers taken over the last decade, the report claimed that employees at some of Gap’s suppliers suffered from short-term contracts, piece-rate wages and sexual assault.
 
The report, published by the Asian Floor Wages Alliance (AFWA), pointed out the widespread practice of factories keeping workers on short-term contracts, in violation of the Labor Law. Factories are legally required to issue long-term contracts after two years, but the report cited analysis by Better Factories Cambodia that found only 67 percent of factories abided by this law, down from 76 percent in 2011.
 
Esther Germans, Chief Technical Advisor of Better Factories Cambodia (BFC), said that without a long-term contract, workers forfeit their maternity leave, attendance bonus, seniority bonus and annual leave.
 
Since they can be fired on short notice, workers without long-term contracts also have less bargaining power with their employers.
 
“Short-term contracts are like handcuffs,” said Moeun Tola, executive director of labor rights group Central. “They detain you and you cannot say no, you cannot complain. Your fundamental rights are not guaranteed because your employment is insecure.”
 
Ken Loo, the secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturer’s Association of Cambodia (GMAC), dismissed this complaint and said many workers actually prefer short-term contracts. Although they don’t collect maternity pay and other benefits, workers on fixed-term contracts can take home 5 percent severance pay at the end of every contract.
 
“This is why you’ll never see this [contract length] as a point of contention,” he said. “You see workers insisting on getting fixed-term contracts.”
 
The AFWA report also alleged that some of Gap’s supply factories use piece-rate wages to pay workers by the number of items of clothing they complete rather than a fixed hourly wage, driving employees to work long hours.
 
“They have to work like a machine,” said Mr. Tola. “They aren’t able to go to the toilet, they have to try to complete their quota.”
 
Mr. Loo said most garment factories here use a “basic plus” system that  gives workers hourly pay at or above the minimum wage, then give them bonuses if they can finish a given number of pieces of clothing.
 
“Piece-rate wages aren’t a problem in Cambodia,” he said.
 
The report added sexual assault to its list of workplace abuses, citing a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch that said as many as one in five garment factory workers had been sexually harassed.
 
William Conklin, country director of worker rights organization Solidarity Center, said some factory employees – especially those on fixed-term contracts – could avoid filing sexual harassment charges for fear of having their contracts terminated.
 
But Mr. Loo was skeptical about this high sexual assault rate, and questioned the Human Rights Watch report’s methodology.
 
“The ILO [International Labor Organization] monitors harassment, and this is not an area of serious noncompliance,” he said. “The report is anecdotal. They interview one or two people…how is that scientific?”

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