Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh sent a letter to 28 garment factories last week demanding responses “within the next 48 hours” to charges of anti-union discrimination.
The minister forwarded a grievance list he said had been compiled by the US Embassy, which met with the ministry late last month to discuss next year’s garment import quotas from Cambodia. The US, Cambodia’s largest garment buyer, has tied quotas to improving working conditions.
“I need to receive from you within the next 48 hours a clear explanation of what really happened in your factory, how you address it,” the letter stated.
“Any infringement to our labor law, which is not redressed in a timely manner, would be conducive to your company losing some quota exports for the US market,” it added. The ministry can shut companies out of garment quota auctions if they violate labor law, though labor experts said it had never taken such a measure.
Minister’s Assistant Nguy Rith said “most all” factories had responded by Tuesday. The ministry will consult with labor officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to “clarify this matter to the US side,” he said.
A union federation activist applauded the letter, but said the government still was not taking the initiative.
“It seems the government only tends to take action when forced to by outside organizations and outside governments, especially the US government,” said George Mcleod, international liaison officer with the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia. “That’s concerning, because it links labor enforcement to trade, and that weapon will disappear in 2005.” The US-Cambodia agreement expires in 2005.
Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia Secretary-General Roger Tan said his association would work with the embassy, the government and trade unions “to eliminate whatever wrongdoing there may be.” He added, “This is an ongoing process.”