Naming and shaming factories that fail to ensure a basic standard of conditions for their workers is starting to improve standards in the crucial garment sector, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), but persistent offenders remain.
Nine factories are included in the “lowest compliance” category in the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program’s second transparency report—including eight that were first flagged in March.
But according to BFC, one third of the 92 factories which were in violation of the so-called “critical issues”—21 basic legal requirements—made some improvements after discovering they were to be shamed in the report.
A total of 43 factories were found to have no violations of the “critical issues,” including 19 that cleaned up their acts to be included in the group, according to BFC.
Just one factory, Hung Tak Garment Co. Ltd., entered the lowest compliance category after 19 areas of concern were flagged, including no payments for sick leave, illegal wage deductions and a string of safety issues.
Hung Tak factory administrator Cheng Seryratana acknowledged that the factory did not meet all of the ILO’s standards before the initial inspection but said it had since made attempts to improve.
“I have changed 13 or 14 issues and asked ILO to come and inspect again. They still say we are lacking in these areas,” he said.
The eight factories remaining in the lowest compliance category were Best Tan Garment Ltd., Cambodian Hoi Fu Garments & Knitting Fty. Co. Ltd., Chang Tai International Corp., Ever-Glory (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Juan Shi Garment Co. Ltd., Lixing Knitting Factory Ltd., Phong Wan Enterprise Co. Ltd., and Yubin Service Co. Ltd.
Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser at BFC, said the increased transparency—in the wake of a Stanford University study last year showing that a lack of public reporting was stifling BFC’s efforts to improve workers’ lives—was encouraging factories to reform that had for years resisted change.
“There’s at least one case where a brand representative flew in and started working with a factory that had always ignored us,” she said.
Ms. Tucker added that there was “still a lot of work to do,” particularly to improve general conditions, such as factories that are too hot or have unsanitary facilities.
“Generally these things suffer when an industry is growing because managers are trying to get orders out the door and that’s what we’ve seen in the last couple of years,” she said.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, declined to comment on BFC’s assertion that transparency was improving conditions.
However, he raised concerns that recent negative publicity surrounding the country’s $5 billion garment sector, which employs about half a million Cambodians, was reducing the number of orders coming in from global brands.
“I would like to see more sensibility to the issue from BFC and more commitment from the buyers and the factories,” Mr. Loo said.
The latest BFC report sees 93 factories added to the transparency database, bringing the total number assessed so far to 152.
Eventually, the database—which makes public the names of the worst-performing factories for the first time since 2005—will cover nearly 500 factories across the country.
Soy Seyha, secretary of the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Union, said the ILO did not monitor smaller suppliers and contractors, so its reporting was not representative of the whole industry.
“They often focus on big companies but for small companies that operate outside of the law, ILO couldn’t reach out to them,” he said.
BFC also added to the database 26 strikes carried out by several different labor unions, all of which it said failed to meet legal obligations.
Unions found to have gone on strike illegally included the Trade Union Federation for Workers, the Free Trade Union and the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU).
Ath Thorn, president of CCAWDU, said the number of legal requirements to conduct a strike was too high and it would take months for unions to meet them all.
“It’s not easy to conduct the strike under the Labor Law because the companies make it very difficult,” he said.