Garment factories that fail to meet basic standards for working conditions are once again being publicly named by the International Labor Organization (ILO) following the launch Monday of the Transparency Database by the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia program (BFC).
Ten factories in BFC’s initial transparency report of 61 factories were placed in the “lowest compliance” category, while 30 factories were found to have met all of BFC’s 21 “Critical Issues.”
The factories in the lowest category failed to address fundamental compliance issues, such as providing emergency exits and properly paying workers’ bonuses and allowances, after at least two evaluations from BFC and a two-month notice period, according to the transparency report published Monday.
BFC also included reports on at least seven garment factory labor unions that failed to follow legal procedures when organizing strikes over the past year.
BFC received scathing criticism in February last year from researchers at Stanford University, who released a report arguing that the lack of transparency in BFC’s monitoring of garment factories was allowing working standards in Cambodia to fall behind conditions in other major garment producing countries.
The last time that the BFC publicly released reports on non-compliant garment factories was in 2005, shortly after the expiration of a preferential trade agreement with the U.S. designed to kick-start Cambodia’s garment industry.
The garment industry, which recorded more than $5 billion in exports last year, supplies many of the world’s major garment brands, including H&M, Levi’s, Gap, Wal-mart, Target, Puma and Zara.
The factories rated by BFC as having the lowest levels of compliance in the report were Best Tan Garment Ltd., Cambodian Hoi Fu Garments & Knitting Fty. Co. Ltd., Chang Tai International Corp., Chea Sinat Garment Co. Ltd., Ever-Glory (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Juan Shi Garment Co. Ltd., Lixing Knitting Factory Ltd., Phong Wan Enterprise Co. Ltd., USA Fully Field Garments Co. Ltd. and Yubin Service Co. Ltd.
Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser at BFC, said that the initial transparency report only covered 61 of the nearly 500 factories monitored by the program, which will all eventually be included in reports released every three months throughout the year.
Ms. Tucker, who was equally scathing of the Stanford report when it was released last year, said that the decision to once again make BFC’s reports public was made before the university researchers criticized the program.
“If you look at our last synthesis report, you can see what we saw, that [working] conditions [in garment factories] have been declining since 2010,” she said, referring to a BFC report released in July.
“We knew we needed another lever for change. We had been working on this well before the criticism became public, but changing a well-established practice can take time.”
Bun Thydeth, director of the Chea Sinat garment factory, said that the factory has already significantly improved its working conditions since the last BFC audit in January 2013, and would continue to make the factory better for workers.
“Our factory meets 100 percent of Khmer standards,” Mr. Thydeth said.
An administrator at the Best Tan garment factory declined to comment, while Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he could not comment as he was traveling abroad.
The first round of BFC’s transparency report also evaluated 12 strikes that have occurred over the past year at the 61 factories included in the transparency index.
Of those strikes, unions organized nine and none followed legal procedure outlined in the country’s labor law. Not a single union was found to have conducted a secret ballot among its members prior to striking or provided seven days’ notice to the factory, as required by law, according to BFC.
The union responsible for the greatest loss of man-hours to factories was the Khmer Youth Union. Other unions found to have been striking illegally were the Cambodian Labor Union Federation, Cambodian Workers Union Federation and the Labor Federation Union for Cambodia.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)
© 2014, All rights reserved.