Better Factories Cambodia Slammed by Stanford Researchers

The International Labor Orga­niza­tion’s (ILO) Better Factories Cam­bodia program (BFC) must em­ploy more transparency in their monitoring of Cambodia’s factories in order to effectively bring change to the country’s work­ing and wage conditions, a report launched Monday says.

Funded in part by the U.S. government and U.N. Development Program, the ILO’s BFC program was launched in 2001 to monitor working conditions in the country’s garment factories, and publishes biannual “synthesis reports,” which track the labor compliance of factories operating in the industry.

According to “Monitoring in the Dark,” a new report by researchers from Stanford Law School, wages and basic job security have actually declined for Cambodian garment workers in the past dec­ade, and during the time the BFC has been in operation.

“Wages in Cambodian apparel factories have fallen significantly in real terms over the past ten years, while garments workers in some other apparel-exporting countries in the region have seen their wages rise, including in China, In­donesia and Vietnam,” the report says, adding that none of these three countries have the equivalent ILO program in operation.

Publication of individual reports on garment factories who are repeat labor law offenders was recommended by the re­searchers, as well as communicating these violations to the workers and unions in the factories, said Stephan Sonnenberg, a lecturer at the International Human Rights and Conflict Res­olution Clinic in Stanford, Cali­fornia, who oversaw the research process last year.

“The theme of transparency comes up over and over again, from the workers, unions and the consumers,” Mr. Sonnenberg said, adding that interviews conducted with workers showed that they did not know how to communicate their grievances to the ILO.

“They [ILO] also need to do a better job communicating with the workers,” he said.

While the Better Factories program is “handicapped” by its institutional design as a tripartite organization—composing of the ILO, the manufacturers, and the government—the Stanford researchers proposed that the ILO could work with the brands on trying to create incentives for factories who do a good job.

Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for BFC, agreed that her program needed more transparency, but noted that it was not an advocacy group.

“We also want transparency and we are working to get more transparency and we are working with our partners,” Ms. Tucker said.

“Because we are tripartite, we play a role as an intersection of employers, government and workers. We also find that each one of those stakeholders feels that we are not meeting their needs.”

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