Sportswear giant Nike Inc was too quick to cancel its contract with Cambodia’s June Textiles Co Ltd over an allegation of illegal child labor, local industry officials said Tuesday.
“We interviewed the worker alleged to be 14, and she says she’s 18 years old,’’ said Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association.
Nike severed ties with June on Saturday, after learning that a documentary to be aired this month on the BBC television program “Panorama” included an interview with an allegedly underage June employee.
Van Sou Ieng says the girl told officials Tuesday that “she lied in the interview because she was scared’’ and because she was paid $10 by a member of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, he said.
Union officials denied the charge, and said the BBC film crew interviewed five Cambodian garment workers aged 12 to 14.
“I have no money” to pay people to lie, FTU President Chea Vichea said. “We have no salary.’’
He said the BBC crew traveled to the workers’ homes and took photographs of their family records, which “showed that they are underage.’’
Chea Vichea praised Nike for taking quick action, and said at least 20 percent of garment workers are underage.
Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported Tuesday that Nike launched its own investigation after being contacted by the BBC crew.
The company found that at least one underage girl was employed at the factory, which had been put on probation by Nike last month for requiring workers to put in too much overtime.
“We just don’t tolerate child labor,’’ Nike spokeswoman Yvonne Iwaniuk told DPA. She said the factory makes sportswear for Nike, and that the contract comprised about 9 percent of June’s business.
Factory manager CK Chang said Tuesday the percentage is less than that. “Nike is fairly new to us,’’ he said, adding that June Textile hopes to convince Nike it was misled and should reverse its decision.
Van Sou Ieng said the girl interviewed Tuesday said she had produced fake ID papers to back up her claim and that several other workers had been paid to make false claims.
He would not release her name, citing concerns for her safety, but said she is still working at June Textile.
Factories don’t need to employ underage workers, he said, because Cambodia has a large pool of adults eager to land garment factory jobs.
“But sometimes, girls want to cheat the factories, because they want the jobs.’’ And if workers lie about their age, employers will not always be able to tell, he said.
Om Mean, director general of the Ministry of Labor, said he does not believe the garment factories employ workers under 18, although some may look younger.
“They are not underage, because they get certification letters from their home villages,’’ stating their ages, he said.
June’s manager, CK Chang, said factories have no way of knowing if the letters are faked. “If [Nike] can pull out [from June], they can pull out from the next factory, because we are all in the same situation,’’ he said.