Garment Factories Ordered To Answer Anti-Union Claims

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.”


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