ILO to Release More Information on Non-Compliant Factories

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program has agreed to release more information on garment factories that fail to comply with labor standards, in an effort to hold manufacturers accountable for their employees’ safety.

“BFC will be releasing selected non-compliance information linked to factory names,” Mau­rizio Bussi, director of ILO’s Decent Work Team for South­east Asia, said by email on Tuesday. “We intend to roll out this public disclosure approach during the course of this year.”

Mr. Bussi did not say how much information related to factories would be released. However, the move does show a willingness by the ILO to render the current system—which does not disclose the names of factories flouting safety regulations—more transparent.

A report published in February by researchers from Stanford Law School charged that the lack of transparency in the Better Factories program had actually set back garment industry standards for Cambodian workers, compared to their counterparts in China, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Earlier this month, the ceiling of the Taiwanese-owned Wing Star Shoes factory collapsed in Kompong Speu province, leaving two young workers dead. And earlier this week, a concrete building on stilts being used as a dinning hall at the Top World Garment factory in Phnom Penh collapsed, injuring 23 workers.

Mr. Bussi said the main challenge with full public disclosure is doing it in a way that is “meaningful and targeted and a catalyst for change.”

Currently, the Better Factories program is voluntary, and many factories participate precisely because their names are not publicly released when safety problems are uncovered.

“We want to give factories the opportunity to be the architects of their own improvements but there are certain issues that some factories have had high non-compliance on for many years and certain factories that show little signs of change after many opportunities,” Mr. Bussi said.

While the Better Factories program does not monitor Wing Star Shoes, Top World Garment, which produces clothes for the U.S. label Gap, is monitored.

According to Mr. Bussi, the structure that collapsed on Monday at the factory was brought to the attention of ILO monitors two years ago, when it was being used as a child care facility for the children of workers at the factory.

Although the factory relocated the child care center, it continued to be used by workers as a place to eat during their break.

“At the moment, we are un­aware of any factories under the BFC program that currently have significant structural problems which could lead to serious worker injury,” Mr. Bussi said.

David Welsh, country director of the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based organization that advocates for workers, said that while the ILO’s decision to disclose more information linked to non-compliant factories is a positive step, the program can only go so far before running risks of being shut down.

“The more transparent [the Better Factories program] becomes or the more power they try to acquire to enforce that factories make changes or penalize those where the findings aren’t up to scratch, the less likely they will be able to stay in the country,” Mr. Welsh said.

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