Violence erupted yesterday morning during a long-running protest at a Phnom Penh factory that produces clothing for international brands H&M, Gap and Levi Strauss when about 1,000 workers broke the factory’s gate and started hurling rocks to break its windows, protesters and military police officers said.
About 300 police and military police arrived to block the factory’s entrance of SL Garment Processing Company in Meanchey district and dispersed the protesters.
“We all broke the two gates and pushed the motorbikes down. Then we ran away after the factory’s security guards held steel bars to fight back at us,” said Neang Met, 38, one of the protesters.
Eah Chip Eang, the factory’s personnel manager, said a small fire had started at the factory during the protest and dozens of motorcycles were also turned over.
Protests at the factory have been ongoing since May 12 with workers asking for a $5 monthly wage raise and $25 in benefits. H&M and Levi Strauss have both said they are monitoring the situation but have yet to take any affirmative action. Mr. Chip Eang yesterday said the factory would not agree to any of the protesters’ demands.
But David Welsh, country director at American Center for International Labor Solidarity, an international organization that promotes workers’ rights, said workers are frustrated because an agreement brokered on Friday with the factory, Ministry of Labor officials and officials from the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia offering bonuses and additional overtime pay had not been honored. “There’s been bad behavior on both sides. I would not promote any violence in any factory. But on the other hand, if you have an agreement and you don’t honor it, what recourse do the workers have?” said Mr. Welsh.
Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for International Labor Organization’s Better Factories program, said that the buyers are all monitoring the situation closely, as well as examining the signed agreement.
“We are very concerned about reports of violence from this situation,” said Mylinh Cheung, head of corporate media relations in Asia Pacific at Levi Strauss.