Major UK Retailer M&S Snubs Protesting Workers in Capital

Garment workers who claim to have manufactured clothes for Marks & Spencer (M&S) protested on Tuesday outside the U.K. retailer’s office in Phnom Penh, requesting help after the factory they worked for closed without warning, leaving them out of pocket.

However, representatives for M&S refused to leave their office to meet the workers. The workers say the retailer has attempted to distance itself from a dispute with the Chinese-owned Chung Fai Knitwear factory.

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A woman protests outside Marks & Spencer’s office in Phnom Penh over unpaid factory wages on Tuesday. (Emil Kastrup/The Cambodia Daily)

More than 200 workers at the Meanchey district factory found themselves unemployed in June after the sweater and sock manufacturer went bankrupt. They have since been attempting to secure pay they say they are owed, some claiming as much as $3,000.

Gathered outside the Phnom Penh Tower on Monivong Boulevard, 40 of the workers held banners calling on M&S to intervene in their plight alongside cut-out placards of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany.

Worker Khan Chiven, 32, said the group had decided to descend on the Cambodian office of M&S—a major retailer with annual revenue of billions of dollars—in the hope it would offer assistance.

“We all came here because we hope M&S can help us solve our problem. We want M&S to put pressure on the factory owner, and we hope they may respond to us and give us some money,” she said.

The workers claimed that M&S had initially agreed to meet them to discuss the dispute, but numerous protesters said on Tuesday that company representatives were now claiming its garments were not made at the factory. One of the workers produced a photograph of a garment with an M&S label, which she insisted was taken inside the factory.

However, a statement sent late last night by an unnamed M&S spokesman claimed Chung Fai was not a supplier for the retailer.

“One of our suppliers used this factory to supply other retailers and we are in contact with this supplier to understand why these protests are being targeted at M&S,” it said.

A British woman inside the M&S office, who refused to give her name, said she was “perfectly aware of the situation,” and declined to comment further before ordering reporters to leave.

Factory representatives could not be reached for comment.

The protesters have vowed to return to the M&S office today.

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