Gov’t Officials Prepare for Second Round of Talks With Brands

Representatives from several major clothing brands and unions are to meet for talks with government officials on Monday to raise concerns about the deterioration of workers’ rights in Cambodia, an international union said late Thurs­day.

The meeting follows a previous round of talks between brands and government officials that were held in February. Since then, at least 17 union leaders and representatives have been arrested for their roles in planning strikes, including nine unionists on Friday alone. 

“Despite assurances from the government in February, there have since been unprecedented levels of intimidation, violence, and a declining respect for the rule of law, which together constitute a grave attack on union and worker rights,” said Jyrki Raina, secretarygeneral of In­dustriALL, in a statement.

Mr. Raina is to attend Monday’s talks, where she will also be representing the International Trade Union Confederation and the Uni Global Union. Also included will be brands including H&M, Gap, Levi’s and Puma, according to the statement.

Unions plan to ask the government about the failure to investigate the shooting deaths of workers, as well as the case of 23 unionists and workers who have been tried for their roles in January’s garment sector strikes, and for whom verdicts are due on May 30.

“[T]he lack of progress in forming a minimum wage determination mechanism” will also be discussed. Garment workers have spent months rallying the government to increase the minimum wage to $160 per month.

“The concerted message from global unions and brands to the Cambodian government is clear: political stability and respect for human and worker rights are essential to maintaining sourcing in Cambodia,” Mr. Raina added.

Sot Samoth, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, confirmed that the talks would go ahead on Monday at the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

“There will be a meeting. I won’t attend, but some from the ministry will attend at the CDC,” Mr. Samoth said. “I don’t know [the agenda],” he added, referring further questions to ministry spokesman Heng Suor, who could not be reached.

The union statement took note of what it said were cases of workers being forced to return to their jobs under duress from military forces. “Workers have

been summarily dismissed and garment factories have launched a catalogue of lawsuits against union leaders,” the statement adds.

On Friday, eight representatives from the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) were arrested in Takeo province, police and union officials said.

Chhun Sareth, chief of the internal security police bureau, confirmed the arrests, but declined to elaborate.

“You can ask the prosecutor, Chroeng Khmao, who is the plaintiff in this case,” he said. Mr. Khmao could not be reached for comment.

CCAWDU President Ath Thorn said he heard that union officials at the JSD Textile factory were arrested “because they were accused of inciting the workers.”

Also on Friday, two leaders of the Workers’ Friendship Union Federation were detained and then released after leading workers from the Cambo Handsome factory in Pur Senchey district on a second day of protests over a number of demands.

About 1,000 workers blocked National Road 4 and marched to a neighboring factory, which is run by the same South Korean owners, “to demand a resolution and ask workers there to join the strike,” according to worker Chhay Sopheap.

Union secretary Phong Lakhana said 20 district security guards and plainclothes officers arrested Ms. Lakhana along with union representative Heng Saroeun.

“They released us after asking us to compromise with the workers to end the roadblock,” she said.

District governor Hem Darith de­nied the unionists had been arrested, but added, “They didn’t ask the authorities for permission to strike.”

Earlier this month, nine union representatives were arrested at two separate factories on similar allegations of inciting strikes or protests.

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