Levi Strauss Pulls Out From Embattled SL Garment Factory

A Singaporean-owned garment factory whose workers have been on strike since early August is no longer producing clothes for American denim giant Levi Strauss, a brand representative and a factory worker said Monday.

The workers of SL Garment Factory in Meanchey district—which still makes clothes for the U.S. brand Gap—have been striking for almost two months to demand food sti­pends, the reinstatement of fired union leaders and the sacking of an adviser to the factory’s owners.

Though a representative for Levi Strauss in the region would not say when the company had severed links with the factory, a union leader said Levi Strauss’ decision had come just after the protests had begun.

Clara So, director of corporate affairs for Levi Strauss in the Asia Pa­cific region, confirmed Monday that the company is no longer sourcing garments from SL Garment.

“This came after a year of focused work with SL to meet our business requirements,” Ms. So said in an email. “Like any company, we regularly assess our manufacturing relationships based on a number of criteria, including business rationale, manufacturing standards and vendor code of conduct.”

On Friday, more than 2,000 workers were blocked by hundreds of military police officers as they attempted to march from the factory in Stung Meanchey commune toward Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house near Independence Mon­ument to submit a petition to his Cabinet, seeking a solution to the dispute.

Ouch Noeun, the factory’s chief representative of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), said Levi Strauss severed its relationship with SL about a month and a half ago.

“The Levi’s company gave one week to the company to find a solution for the workers. But they stopped the contract because there was no solution,” Mr. Noeun said.

CCAWDU director Ath Thun said his union has been in touch with Levi Strauss, as well as other brands produced at the factory, since the protests began in early August. He deplored Levi Strauss’ decision to stop sourcing from SL because of the labor dispute as it shows a lack of commitment to Cambodia’s garment workers.

“It’s because they don’t want to be involved with this case,” Mr. Thun said. “Levi’s should come and talk with the employers and give some pressure [to them to] negotiate with the workers, and cooperate with other brands to put pressure with the company to settle this case.”

Meas Sotha, the factory adviser that workers want fired because they accuse him of introducing new rules and allegedly hiring plainclothes military police to guard the factory, said he was unsure whether or not SL was still producing Levi Strauss.

Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong said Monday that City Hall held a meeting with the Ministry of Labor over SL’s protests and that they have asked for Mr. Sotha’s resignation from the company.

The “problem happened from him [Mr. Sotha], so I think that the problem will definitely be solved if he resigns from the company,” Mr. Socheatvong said.

However, Mr. Sotha said he would simply be curbing his day-to-day management duties.

“I just agreed to withdraw from the management of administrative work,” Mr. Sotha said. “The Phnom Penh governor and the Ministry of Labor have no right to fire me because I am a shareholder of the company,” he added.

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