The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training yesterday vowed that it would continue to promote workers’ rights and fair working conditions for those in the garment sector amid the recommended partial withdrawal of the European Union’s Everything but arms (EBA) preferential trade scheme in Cambodia.
Ministry spokesman Heng Sour made the remarks during a meeting with the International Labour Organization (ILO) at the capital’s Better Factories Cambodia. The European Commission on February 13 announced its recommendation after it deemed Cambodia’s efforts to mitigate serious and systemic violations of the human rights principles enshrined in the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights to be insufficient.
“The withdrawal of tariff preferences and their replacement with the EU’s standard tariffs will affect selected garment and footwear products and all travel goods and sugar,” the European Commission said in a statement.
According to the EU, Cambodian imports under the EBA scheme accounted for 45 percent of exports from the Kingdom in 2018, which amounted to $5.8 billion.
The preferential scheme allows the Kingdom’s goods to enter the EU market 99 per cent tariff-free. Its loss is predicted to cost Cambodia millions, along with the risk of unemployment of around 800,000 Cambodians working in the garment and textile manufacturing sector.
The statement said the withdrawal amounts to about one-fifth of Cambodia’s yearly exports to the EU, estimated at $1.1 billion.
In response, Mr Sour said the government will continue to respect and promote workers’ rights and fair working conditions even if the Kingdom’s preferential access to the EU market is completely stripped off.
“The government will still promote workers’ rights and fair working conditions with or without the EBA. It is our priority to foster optimal working conditions for workers” he said.
“We [the government] have already drawn up a plan to solve the effects of EBA’s partial withdrawal. Again, I would like to stress that promoting workers’ rights and conditions is our priority,” said Sour.
He added the EC’s recommendation was less about the working conditions in the garment sector and more about the bloc’s political motivations.
“The real reason is not caused by the bad working conditions in the garment sector but the EC’s drive to interfere in Cambodia’s internal affairs under the guise of human rights and democracy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, during a meeting at Prey Veng province on Sunday, urged local authorities to inform the public and the workers about EC’s proposed partial withdrawal of the preferential tax scheme. “I call on our local authorities to properly educate the public about the EBA withdrawal because the opposition party in Cambodia will use this issue to incite social unrest and disorder,” he said.