Representatives of the private sector and rights groups met yesterday at a forum on business and human rights to discuss how Cambodia’s growing industry can protect the rights of its workers.
Following the forum, government representatives and executives from a number of federations issued a statement on their commitment to respecting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights enshrined in national and international laws and conventions.
“Risky behavior and violations of human rights can be avoided as long as all sectors sincerely and diligently endeavor to uphold the human rights of all,” they wrote.
Clais Chenda, the treasurer of the Cambodia Women’s Business Federation and the owner of several hotels and plantations, said that businesses have to invest in human rights to improve their relationships with society.
“Understanding and protecting human rights will lead to increased profit and decreased litigation,” she said. “The private sector must do everything it can to advance human rights in the country.”
Chak Sopheap, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), said the private sector needs to offer more than rhetoric if it is to win the trust of society. She listed human rights abuses by some of Cambodia’s main enterprises, including factories and economic land concessions.
“We welcome the attempt by big business in Cambodia to try to protect human rights,” she said. “We have seen a great deal of improvement in factories and ELCs. But reports continue to show ongoing abuses in these industries.”
She said she believes that private business needs to lead the way in protecting human rights.
Vong Sovann, deputy secretary-general of the Labour Ministry’s Committee for the Settlement of Strikes and Demonstrations, also signed his name to the declaration, but cautioned that it would take time to implement better business practices that protect human rights.
“We must continue to move forward,” he told Khmer Times. “The more the private sector understands and defends human rights, the better.”
He mentioned that one of the most contentious issues complicating the relationship between businesses and workers is the issue of minimum wage. “Some of them don’t want to negotiate,” he said. “But we need to continue to attempt to reach a solution.”