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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

2/10/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

January demonstration ends with five workers shot dead

You get what you pay for - and if you don't pay enough, what you want evaporates before your eyes. That seems to be the problem behinds Cambodia's garment industry, a collection of "sweat shops" where workers toil for as little as $100 a month. It's an inequity that can no longer be ignored - five people were killed in a sweat shop demonstration in Phnom Penh on January 3. The incident served as a clarion call that the problem surrounding cheap labor here is not going to go away anytime soon.

Advocacy groups are urging clothing brands to review their purchasing practices and take action to ultimately end low wages, which is at the root of demonstrations.

Advocacy groups are urging clothing brands to review their purchasing practices and take action to ultimately end low wages, which is at the root of demonstrations.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/10/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: Cambodia, sweat shops, demonstrations


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Workers are getting very angry," Anannya Bhattacharjee of the New Delhi-based Asia Floor Wage Alliance says. "There is a lot of explosiveness. They do not want to tolerate the current situation of continuing poverty anymore."
 
Strikes and protests regularly roil Cambodia's garment industry. Advocacy groups are urging clothing brands to review their purchasing practices and take action to ultimately end low wages, which is at the root of demonstrations.

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The Cambodian government first offered to raise monthly pay from 80 to 95 dollars, then to 100. Striking workers, however, insisted that the minimum level be at least 160 dollars.

Campaigning for higher minimum wages across garment-producing countries in Asia, Asia Floor Wage thinks that if statutory minimum wages are not high enough, multinational companies need to be involved.

"Garment workers are producing for the whole global industry, so multinationals should pay the difference between statutory minimum wage and living wage," Bhattacharjee said.

"This is not an unfair demand, but brands are still not agreeing to provide the money for it," she said.

Major U.S. clothing firms have since spoken out about the pay inequity in Cambodia. American Eagle Outfitters, Gap Inc. and Levi Strauss & Co. have sent an open letter to Cambodia's government expressing their concerns over the recent bloody protests. They have also called for the government, manufacturers and trade unions to develop a regularly-scheduled wage review mechanism.

Levi Strauss & Co. in a statement said it is "firmly committed to sourcing in Cambodia" and encourages peaceful resolution to end political unrest. A spokesperson from Gap Inc. said the company strongly opposes any form of violence, calling for negotiations among stakeholders to peacefully resolve the dispute.

Still -- further steps must be taken, according to the Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum.

"Brands and retailers need to agree to voluntarily pay higher prices for apparel products made in Cambodia and require the factories to therefore pay higher wages," Liana Foxvog, communications director of the Forum, says.

Multinationals have spread their supply chains around the world, driving a "race to the bottom" among developing countries. "We have seen low wages, repression of freedom of association as well as poor working conditions," Foxvog said.

"We need a system that is different from the current business-as-usual model where brands and retailers will shop around to different factories and say who will make this shirt for two dollars. If a factory won't, they can find a factory that will.

"As a result we still have a sweatshop economy in 2014," she said.

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