Cambodia is one of the worst countries in the world to work in due to a lack of effective labor rights and unfair and abusive practices by employers, according to a report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released Monday.
The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 139 countries based on 97 different universally binding obligations—derived from International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and jurisprudence—to assess which countries best protect workers’ rights, in both law and in practice.
Countries are then awarded a score from one to five, with a score of one denoting countries where violations against workers do not occur on a regular basis, and five awarded to countries that are classified as among the worst in the world to work in.
Cambodia is in tier five, alongside countries such as Guatemala —the most dangerous country on Earth for a union worker—Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, as well as the somewhat less expected countries of Greece and South Korea.
“Cambodia’s labor law fails to cover many civil servants, there are undue restrictions on the right to elect union representatives, and in 2013 the government responded with lethal force to demonstrators seeking a decent wage and working conditions,” ITUC press secretary Gemma Swart said in a press release.
“This resulted in Cambodia receiving a score of 5 in the Rights Index—the worst possible rating other than for those countries where the rule of law has completely broken down,” she said, referring to countries such as war-torn Central African Republic, for which a score of 5+ is reserved.
Labor rights violations, such as imposing sanctions against legitimate strike action, or interfering in the right to unionize, were identified by questionnaires sent to all 325 ITUC affiliates worldwide and were supported by factual evidence, the report says.
The report focuses on the “sweatshop” working conditions in the garment sector, union discrimination and the authorities’ brutal quashing of minimum wage protests since the end of last year.
“On 2-3 January 2014, the government resorted to violence and intimidation to quash the protests,” the report says. “For police to kill, beat and arrest workers in brazen violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association is extremely troubling and must be condemned.”
The goal of the index is to function as monitoring tool for policy makers and investors and also act as a counterpoint to the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report, which the ITUC report accuses of saying that driving down labor standards is good for business.
But according to Sandra D’Amico, vice president of the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (CAMFEBA), labeling a country as “worst country in the world to work in” is not constructive, and shows a lack of understanding of country context.
“There is a lot of good will here among all the parties involved, but we have to make sure we are doing what is right for industrial relations inside Cambodia, not to please the ITUC,” she said.
In fact, Ms. D’Amico said, garment buyers have expressed the belief that Cambodia is one of the countries with most freedoms for workers, pointing out the 3,000 workers unions registered in the industry.
“Everybody recognizes that Cambodia has issues, but to say that we don’t respect collective bargaining is not true. Can we do it better? Of course. Can we improve working conditions? Of course,” she said.
“But to completely downgrade a country and place it alongside a country like Guatemala in this way is absurd.”