A group of international businesses in the garment industry have expressed concern over the labour and human rights situation in the country.
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On Thursday, the group – which includes Nike, Adidas, and Levi Strauss – sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen pleading with his government to listen to the concerns of the European Union regarding labour and human rights setbacks in the country.
“We are concerned that the labour and human rights situation in Cambodia is posing a risk to trade preferences for Cambodia,” the letter said, adding that “many of the signatories to this letter have previously raised these concerns through multiple channels with your government.
“To date, we have not received any response to that letter. We look forward to hearing back from you and working with you to ensure a bright future for Cambodia’s workers and the Cambodian economy overall.”
The letter says that the success of the garment sector in Cambodia has gone hand-in-hand with the country’s adoption and adherence to high labour standards such as those set by the International Labor Organisation (ILO).
“When the Multifibre Arrangement (MFA) was being phased out, there was concern that Cambodia’s garment sector would not survive, but European, Canadian, HK, and American companies kept buying from Cambodia largely based on your government’s strong commitment to high labour standards that were embodied in your government’s implementation of the ILO Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program.”
The letter says the group’s work with suppliers in Cambodia contributed to the $9.5 billion in garment, footwear, and travel goods exported from Cambodia last year. Today, exports of garments, footwear, and travel goods account for more than one-third of Cambodia’s total gross domestic products. This represents half of Cambodia’s total exports, it adds.
In February, the European Commission launched the process that could lead to the suspension of the Kingdom’s preferential access to the European Union market under the Everything-but-arms (EBA) trade scheme. The EU is concerned about democratic setbacks in the country, including the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in 2017.
In January, US senators Ted Cruz and Chris Coons introduced the Cambodian Trade Act of 2019, which would require the US government to review the preferential trade treatment Cambodia receives under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme.
The Kingdom has about 1,200 garment and footwear factories, employing approximately 800,000 Cambodian – 80 percent of whom are women.
According to Labor Minister It Samheng, Cambodia ranks fifth in Asean when it comes to high minimum wages. In Cambodia, the minimum wage for the garment sector is currently set at $182 per month.
According to BFC’s latest report, the number of underage workers in the garment sector has seen a sharp decline, from 74 cases in 2014 to 10 cases as of last year. BFC said this would not have been possible without involvement from the ministries of Labour and Commerce, as well as from the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC).