Following the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) announcement that its Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program will from January name and shame firms that contravene Cambodian labor laws, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has urged factory operators to refuse entry to ILO monitors, unless they have government officials in tow.
Ken Loo, secretary-general at GMAC, said that BFC’s reluctance to involve his organization in discussions, and its haste to implement the new monitoring standards, had led him to tell factories that any factory inspections must include government officials, a directive that he claims is part of the original agreement between stakeholders.
“BFC has gone beyond its mandate,” Mr. Loo said. “Their job is to monitor and report, not to enforce; that is the government’s job.
“And now they are going ahead and trying to implement new practices without involving two of the three stakeholders. We feel like it is being shoved down our throats.”
“The only mechanism we have to express our displeasure is to call on factory owners to demand that the government and GMAC are involved whenever Better Factories comes for an inspection.”
Mr. Loo claims that the initial memorandum of understanding (MoU) on factory monitoring completed and signed by the government, GMAC and ILO specifies that all parties be involved at all stages of discussion and implementation, but Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser at BFC, claims the opposite.
“[To have government officials involved in factory inspections] doesn’t conform to our role as an independent and neutral body that operates without interference,” Ms. Tucker said. “The government is supposed to play an advisory role only.”
And “[having government officials involved in inspections] contravenes the [separate] MoU that all garment export factories have signed [with the BFC],” she said.
BFC announced last week that in January it would start to publicly disclose the names and details of legal indiscretions by factories that do not comply with Cambodian labor laws and international standards.
The move followed after Stanford Law School researchers in February released a report that concluded that BFC had failed to improve wages and standards for workers in the Cambodian garment sector. The scathing Stanford report said the BFC’s lack of transparency had actually set back industry standards for Cambodian workers compared to those in China, Indonesia and Vietnam—none of which had an ILO-backed factory-monitoring program at the time.
Sat Samoth, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, said that he was working to bring BFC and GMAC to the negotiating table in order to once again make factory conditions the top priority.
“I have taken consultation with the unions, BFC, GMAC and the U.S. Embassy and drafted a new MoU and sent it to the parties [Monday] morning,” Mr. Samoth said. “We will set up a task force to solve the issue and then have until January to agree to a solution.
“It seems that everyone wants disclosure [of legal noncompliance by factories] but have lost the ability to communicate with each other,” he added.
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