June’s Textile Worker Says She Lied to BBC

The garment worker who looked into a BBC television lens a month ago and said she was underage told a room full of Phnom Penh reporters Wednes­day that she is in fact 18.­

Sun Thyda, flanked by two pro-government union officials at the headquarters of the Cambodian Union Federation, presented documents showing she was born in 1982.

“I lied before, but now I am telling the truth,” she said in a soft voice, staring down at the table in front of her. She said she had lied because the BBC film crew had offered $10 to workers willing to be interviewed, but said they only wanted to talk to those under 15 years old.

She said she changed her mind not because she was pressured or paid off by government or company officials, but because she had learned that as many as 2,000 co-workers at the June Textile Co Ltd might lose their jobs if foreign buyers canceled their contracts.

“I don’t want the Nike company to cut the contract,” she said.

Chuon Mom Thol, CUF president, said he does not blame Sun Thyda for the uproar over the interview, which contributed to Nike’s abrupt decision last weekend to cancel its contract with June Textile.

The interview was taped for the BBC newsmagazine “Panorama.” Several British newspapers have run stories under huge headlines about Nike’s “child slave labor” practices in Cambodia. The issue is a hot topic in En­gland because Nike recently signed an endorsement worth just more than $200 million with the Manchester United football club.

“It’s the BBC’s fault, not hers, because she is a girl from the countryside, an ignorant worker,” Chuon Mom said. He said it was “unfortunate” that the interview had been arranged by a factory representative for the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

But Chea Vichea, FTU president, said there is nothing unethical about his union’s efforts to expose child labor in Cambodian garment factories, where he says underage workers comprise 20 percent of the labor force.

He said the BBC crew did give the girl $10, “but only after finishing the interview, because they felt sorry for her.” Chea Vichea still maintained the girl is underage.

CK Chang, June Textile’s manager says the industry has no need to hire underage workers because many adults want factory jobs, but added some workers lie to get hired.

Still, several elements re­mained murky Wednesday. Although Sun Thyda said she told the BBC she was 14, a local researcher for the BBC who was present at the interview said she told them she was 12.

The researcher had also re­viewed family records with the BBC crew at the girl’s home in Kompong Cham province, and said that the records she produced Wednesday were not the ones he had seen, which showed her age as 12.





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