In the Garment Sector, Underage Workers Are the Exception

We refer to the article “Fake IDs Make Mockery of Factory Age Rules” (March 21-22), which we read with much concern. It paints a troubling and false picture of the situation regarding underage workers in Cambodia’s garment and shoe factories, which is at odds with the reality.

We would like to point out the rigorous steps that the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and other stakeholders have taken to eliminate the scourge of underage workers in Cambodia’s garment and shoe factories, which ensure that employing underage workers is clearly a rare exception and certainly not the norm.

The number of underage workers found working in GMAC members’ factories is very small and those who are found have mostly either presented fake IDs or opted to impersonate someone else, all of their own volition.

It makes no economic sense for any factory to willfully employ a few underage workers and risk facing the consequences if they are caught.

Why would a factory owner risk millions of dollars in investment and jeopardize the company employing thousands of workers in order to employ one or two underage workers?

It is also very important that your readers understand the actions that GMAC, together with the government and the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia (ILO-BFC) program, have taken to ensure that Cambodia is at the forefront of compliance with labor laws, especially when compared with other garment-producing nations.

GMAC member factories take full responsibility if underage workers are found on their premises—even when factory managers have been hoodwinked by the illegal actions of the workers. A strict and onerous remediation process is followed to remove the underage worker from the workforce while still affording them their rights and dignity.

The underage worker will be fully compensated for all work performed to date as well as any accumulated unused annual leave. He or she will be placed in a suitable vocational training institute until the age of 15 and all related training fees will be paid for by the factory.

Lastly, the underage worker will also continue to receive wages until the age of 15, at which time he or she can choose to return to work at the factory. This whole process is administered and monitored by the ILO-BFC.

Ken Loo, secretary-general, GMAC

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