Labor Making Progress, US Official Notes

Child Workers Not An Issue, Garment Quota Increased

The US government is so confident that Cambodia does not have a significant child labor problem that it has increased this year’s garment quota by an additional 4 percent.

Andrew Samet, undersecretary for international affairs at the US Department of Labor, said Tues­day that Cambodia has made “very significant progress” over the past year in complying with international labor standards. “We don’t have any reason to believe child labor is a significant problem here in Cambodia,” he said after concluding meetings with Cambodian labor officials.

Samet said he was in Cambodia as part of his regular rounds, monitoring labor conditions and meeting with officials in countries that do substantial business with the US.

But his remarks, coming on the heels of a media firestorm in Britain accusing sportswear giants Nike Inc and Gap Inc of using child labor in Cambodia, had the effect of pouring cold water on the blaze.

Samet said that while he is not privy to management strategy at the dozens of major US corporations that buy garments from Cambodia, he has heard nothing to indicate they’re planning to leave.

The garment quota refers to the amount of merchandise foreign contractors can sell in the lucrative US market each year. The base amount is set by contract; US labor officials can increase that amount, adding “bonus” percentages, based on their assessment of labor conditions.

In 2000, Cambodia was eligible for a bonus of 14 percent. But last January, the US announced Cambodia would receive a bonus of only 5 percent, based on reports of excessive overtime and anti-union practices by management.

Samet said Tuesday Cambodia’s labor conditions improved enough so that its quota bonus was increased by another 4 percent in September.

Minister of Labor Ith Sam Heng said he was happy that the US government has recognized the improvements of the past year, including the rise in the minimum wage.

“It means the US sees something good about labor conditions in Cambodia,” he said, adding that he is confident Cambodia will do as well—or perhaps even better—next year.

He said US officials reviewed the results of a Labor Ministry investigation into allegations, raised by a BBC-TV crew on the investigative program “Panorama,” that June Textile Co Ltd employed underage workers.

A June Textile worker named Sun Thyda, who told the BBC film crew she was 12 years old, later recanted her story in the presence of government-leaning union officials, saying she was in fact 18 and had lied to the BBC in hopes of being paid $10.

The legal working age in Cambodia is 15.

“The US found out there was no real documentation saying the girl was 12 years old and working in the factory, so the buyers will keep the contracts,” Ith Sam Heng said.

He said ministry officials have agreed to develop a special “training job” program for workers aged 15 to 18 that will be less than full-time work, he said.

He also said ministry officials will try harder to detect factory workers who are younger than the legal age, “to make sure no 12-years old slip through.”


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